Seydou Keïta’s photography eloquently portrays Bamako society during its era of transition from a cosmopolitan French colony into an independent capital. Initially trained by his father in carpentry, Keïta’s career as a photographer was launched in 1935 when an uncle presented him with his first camera, a Kodak Brownie Flash. During his adolescence, Keïta mastered the technical challenges of shooting and printing, later purchasing a large format camera.
In 1948, he opened his own studio in Bamako and quickly built up a successful business. Whether photographing individuals, families or professional associations, Keïta balanced both a strict sense of formality and a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects. Like many professional photographers of the time, he furnished his studio with numerous props, from backdrops and costumes, to Vespas and luxury cars. Keïta commented on his studio practice: ‘It’s easy to take a photograph, but what really made a difference was that I always knew how to find the right position and I was never wrong’.