Malick Sidibé (1936 – 2016) was one of the great African Studio photographers of his generation. A legend in Bamako in the 1960s and 70s, no party was complete without him. Studio Malick was the place to hang out, be seen and have your portrait taken wearing the latest clothes, watches and hairstyles inspired by magazines and record covers from Europe and America.
Sidibé set up his studio in 1960, having completed a five-year photography apprenticeship, in the lively Bagadadji quarter of Bamako, at a time when Mali became independent from France and a great sense of freedom and confidence coincided with economic expansion. He bought a complete set of laboratory equipment from a Frenchman heading home, and became one of the first photographers to take a 35mm camera out into the city, covering up to five parties a night in the newly formed clubs with names like The Barons, The Seducers or The Soul Brothers, all of which had distinct styles and reputations and became meeting places to drink, discuss politics and swap James Brown records. Malick would then return to the studio and print until dawn.
Studio Malick soon became the place in Bamako to hang-out and be photographed. Many of his clients were women who wanted to show off the latest clothes, watches and hairstyles, and would return regularly as new trends emerged. For young people a studio portrait was an important event and each image was constructed using a mixture of carefully chosen props. They would dress like their idols, copying a specific film or look, and for each club there would be rules dictating the way their members should wear their hats and jackets, or the way they held their cigarettes. The energy emanating from these pictures is still palpable in the studio today.
Before his death in April 2016, one might have sat with Malick for a few hours and witnessed people of all ages dropping by; some would even call out his name as they cycled past. Inside the studio the famous striped textile is still in use, and the shelves are packed with repaired cameras and negatives. Always happy to discuss the old days, Malick loved to tell stories of Bamako at the time of independence. His charming and empathetic portraits of post- independent Mali are unique documents of a time and place and are testaments to Sidibé’s ability to reveal so much using only basic props and a modest studio.
In 1994, Sidibé had his first exhibition outside of Mali and received much critical praise for his carefully composed portraits. In 2007, he became the first photographer to receive the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, both as the first photographer and the first African recognised as such. Sidibé's work has since become renowned on a global scale.