Born in 1929 in Accra, then the Gold Coast colony, James Barnor began his career in photography typically, as an apprentice in a colonial portrait studio of a relative, his cousin J. P. Dodoo. But in a unique career spanning more than six decades, bridging continents and photographic genres, Barnor would migrate into creating a singular portfolio of street and studio portraiture depicting societies in transition: images of a burgeoning sub-Saharan African nation moving toward independence and a European capital city becoming a multicultural metropolis. In the process, Barnor would become, uniquely perhaps, the only African studio photographer to leave the continent before 1960 to study and practice in Europe. Whether in Ghana or England, Barnor documented cultures in transformation, new identities coming into being—the fragmented experience of modernity and diaspora; the shaping of cosmopolitan societies and selves; and the changing representation of blackness, desire, and beauty across time and space. His archive thus not only constitutes a rare document of the black experience in postwar Britain during the Swinging Sixties, but also provides an important frame of reference, overlapping and suturing questions of the postcolonial in relation to diasporic perspectives in twentieth-century photography. Barnor’s remarkable portraits represent significant moments in African diasporic subject formation and the cosmopolitan self-fashioning that emerged in tandem with transcultural journeys through modernity and postcolonial worlds.

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