Initially trained in Timbuktu as a mason, Hamidou Maiga’s career as a photographer was launched in the early 1950s when he purchased his first camera. In 1958, after having learned the basics of photography through an apprenticeship in photojournalism, Maiga opened his first studio in N’Gouma. For two years thereafter, he traced the route of the River Niger finding a clientele for his distinctive outdoor studio portraits. Balancing a strict sense of formality and a remarkable level of intimacy with his subjects, Maiga’s early 1970s work shares stylistic parallels with Irving Penn’s seminal Worlds in a Small Room (1974), referring to the neutralised background achieved by the small studio he brought with him on his travels.
From Bamako to Timbuktu, Maiga’s nomadic studio portraits present an extraordinary record of Malian society. While his precursor Seydou Keïta and contemporary Malick Sidibé have achieved international recognition by museums, collectors, and publishers worldwide, Maiga’s archive of negatives came to light only recently, and have since been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the UK and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, the US.