© Samuel Fosso,La Bourgeoise, From the Series TA, 2007

© Samuel Fosso, Self-Portrait (as Liberated American Woman of the ’70s), 2007

“In every photograph the beautiful Fosso is subject, object and creator. Occasionally he includes other people, but their posture and placement relegates them to a secondary position. In one stagy, understated and slightly bizarre image, for example, Fosso, in large sunglasses autographs a book for an anonymous man, who inclines deferentially towards him. In other photographs, like an indifferent, latter-day and urbanised Narcissus, he’s pictured sitting or standing with himself through the magic of a double exposure. The shallow depth of the studio is transformed with flowers, cane furniture and patterned cloth into a parody of a genteel boudoir. Unlike Narcissus, however, it’s impossible to separate the reflected Fosso from the original – like a happily married couple, one ‘self’ co-habits comfortably with the other. It’s interesting to compare these double images with 19th- and early 20th-century ‘before-and-after conversion’ double-portrait photographs distributed by European missionaries as proof of their ‘civilising’ influence on various African colonies. Fosso’s playful fragmentation of the self-portrait creates a clever counterpoint to the continent’s history of photographic colonialism, a form of aesthetic Euro-centrism, which reduced indigenous cultural and social complexities to convenient one-liners.


Fosso’s combination of a secretive, almost child-like delight in dressing up, doubling and role playing, reiterates the idea that the self is somehow more than simply the sum of one’s more obvious parts. The mocking, secretive self-consciousness, and restless self-absorption of adolescence represented in these images makes them extraordinarily compelling. It’s this exploration of the slippage between personality and type, disguise and displacement that links his work to many of the theoretical and aesthetic issues that concerned photographers in the late 70s and 80s – Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’ series, made at around the same time, most obviously springs to mind. Her work has a similarly anti-naturalistic, theatrical quality, that is more about the anticipation, or creation, of meaning than it is about the stating of concrete truths. Photography for both Fosso and Sherman is a medium they can trust to reflect reality’s vicissitudes precisely because they know how appropriately fallible, how malleable it can be.”

excerpt from article by Jennifer Higgie

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