James Barnor was born on 6th June, 1929 in Accra, in what was then the Gold Coast.
He is a Ghanaian photographer who has been based in London since the 1990s.
In 1947, Barnor started an apprenticeship with his cousin J. P. Dodoo, a well-known portrait photographer and says: “I had a focus and I was ambitious.”
His career spanned six decades, and although for much of that period his work was not widely known. It was lately discovered by new audiences.
He was Ghana’s first full-time newspaper photographer in the 1950s. He is credited with introducing colour processing to Ghana in the 1970s.
In 1953, he set up his own studio, Ever Young, in the Jamestown district of Accra, taking portraits of the local community.
Two years earlier, he became the first photojournalist to work at the Daily Graphic newspaper (now state-owned, it was brought to Accra in 1950 by the Daily Mail’s Cecil King), where he covered everything from local news and sports to politics.
“I could do my own stories when I took pictures, without a reporter,” he says. “I often worked not on assignment, [but] leading my own story … and got it published.” At that time in Accra, he says, photographers weren’t working with reporters to cover the news. “I was the first.”
Moreover, it has been said: “James Barnor is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema.”
In his street and studio photography, Barnor represents societies in transition: Ghana moving toward Independence, and London becoming a multicultural metropolis.
He photographed Ghana’s future first president Kwame Nkrumah (pictured kicking a football in one of Barnor’s shots), pan-Africanist politician J. B. Danquah, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke (last British governor of the Gold Coast), the Duchess of Kent and then American Vice-President Richard Nixon (when he attended Ghana’s Independence ceremony in March 1957), as well as boxing champion Roy Ankrah.
Below are some of the works of James Barnor
- James Barnor biography at Victoria and Albert Museum.
- Tiffani Jones, “Secret History of the Black Pinup: Drum Magazine and James Barnor”, Coffee Rhetoric, 23 August 2012.
- “James Barnor: ‘My advice to young photographers: fall in love with books'”, Photobook Bristol, 9 March 2016.