Malick Sidibé is an African photographer, famous for his documentation of Bamako, Mali, his hometown, from the 1950s to the 1970s. Known as the Eye of Bamako, the story of how he came to be a photographer is one of chance; a series of events that in many ways seem to be the fulfillment of some predetermined destiny.
Sidibé (b.1936) grew up in a peasant village, 300 km outside of town, where his family were animal herders. At a young age Sidibé was chosen by the village chief to attend a white boys school. From there he caught the attention of the Major who sent him to the crafts school of Sudan. In 1957 a local French photographer requested from the school a student to decorate his studio. As the best painter in his class, Malick was chosen. Fascinated with the immediacy of photography, Malick was enthralled with the potential on this new medium. While many photographers would not let their assistants use the camera, Malick’s boss allowed him to take photographs at local African parties, while he would cover the European parties.
The 60s was an exciting time in Mali. Western music – rock, hula-hoop, swing – revolutionised the local social scene. Young African people would hold dances, which Malick was invited to photograph, where they would dance closely till the early hours of the morning. Sometimes there would be up to 4 parties a night, all of which Malick would attend, taking photos to be pinned up at his studio for party goers to purchase the following week.
In the 60s Malick began taking studio portraits, which were a popular social tradition. Many would come with their families and friends to have their portrait taken, often bringing along their most prized possessions–their girlfriends, their motorbike, sometimes even livestock. As one of the very few who had access to photographic technology, Malick recorded the local faces and characters of Mali, who would otherwise, been lost in history.