Seydou Keita's (ca. 1921 Mali - 2001 France) photographs eloquently portray society in Bamako during its transition from cosmopolitan French colony to independent capital. Whether photographing individuals or groups, Keita's balanced a strict sense of formality with a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects against numerous props-from backdrops and costumes, to Vespas and luxury cars.
Keita was self-taught, initially working with a Kodak Brownie received as a gift from his uncle. He worked intuitively, implementing extreme precision on each portrait. His archive of over 10,000 negatives was gradually brought to light in the early 1990s culminating with Seydou Keita, edited by Andre Magnin (Scalo, 1997).
It's easy to take a photo, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position, and I never was wrong. Their head slightly turned, a serious face, the position of the hands. I was capable of making someone look really good. To have your photo taken was an important event. Often they became serious - I think they were intimidated by the camera. I always told them to remain relaxed. They began to like it. It took only about 10 minutes. ... In photography, everything should be as close to perfection as possible. After all, the customer is trying to look their very best. In Bamako we say i ka ny which translates as 'you look well,' but in fact it means 'you look beautiful like that.' Art is beautiful. - Seydou Keita.