Leonce Agbodjélou

Selected works by Leonce Agbodjélou

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled triptych (Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series)

2012

C-print

180 x 130 cm each

During the last half of the 20th century, photographic portraiture underwent impressive expansion in West Africa. The advent of independence that swept the continent in the 1950s and 1960s provided a sense of pride expressed in fashion, music and all aspects of social life that leaked into photographers’ studios. In most coastal cities photographers played a significant role in creating an archive of these developments, making the movements immortal.

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled triptych (Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series)

2012

C-print

180 x 130 cm each

Benin’s Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou follows this unique tradition as the successor of his father’s photographic practice. He has projected such legacy into the future by founding the first photography school in Porto-Novo.
His Demoiselles de Porto Novo are among a number of bodies of work encompassed in Citizens of Porto Novo series, which focuses on social and cultural facets of the city such as religious ritual, sport, and even smuggling. In the Demoiselles, the elegance of the sitters is punctuated with historical references: the female models dressed in traditional fashion nonchalantly exhibit their nude torsos in the colonial setting of the artist’s family home. We suspect them watching us behind the wooden ceremonial masks that elicit Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled (Demoiselles de Porto-Novo series)

2012

C-print

180 x 130 cm

Agbodjélou’s house is one of a vast number of grand mansions built at the end of the 19th century by Africans returning home after the abolition of slavery in Brazil.
The building stands in as the artist’s melancholic set for the reversal of the gaze in the complex processes of colonization that marked the old slave port of Benin’s capital.

Text © Gabriela Salgado

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled (Vodou Series)

2011

C-print

57 x 40 cm

One can imagine photographs looking like this 150 years ago and, had the medium existed then, one thousand years go, when masqueraders began to appear at Yoruba funerals to guide the passage of the deceased to the spirit world.

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled (Vodou Series)

2011

C-print

57 x 40 cm

Much has changed for the Yoruba and their spiritual guides, who now find themselves in the Republic of Benin, and their costumes have probably absorbed a host of influences over the centuries, but Agbodjélou’s clever strategy of placing his subjects against mud brick walls conveys this sense of an essentially unaltered time.

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled (Vodou Series)

2011

C-print

57 x 40 cm

Today the Egungun masqueraders fulfill multiple functions in addition to being guides to the afterworld, performing the ceremony of cleansing the community prior to the rainy season, or delighting crowds with acrobatics and magical displays. But back a century ago, and more, the photographer would have been a white man, an anthropologist or missionary set out to document ‘the primitive, superstitious practices’ of people still back in ‘the childhood of Mankind’.

Leonce Agbodjélou
Untitled (Vodou Series)

2011

C-print

57 x 40 cm

He would have seen, but he would not have understood. Today, that photographer is a black man, a citizen of Benin and the son of an illustrious photographer, Joseph Moise Agbodjélou (1912-2000). His generation of photographers had been exposed to the medium while fighting for the French in World War II and returned to West Africa to set up their own studios. His son has seen, and he has understood.

Text by William A Ewing


Articles

LEONCE RAPHAEL AGBODJÉLOU
August 30th, 2011 by Amir

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou’s photographs of the people of Porto-Novo, Benin (formerly Republic of Dahomey) are drawn from street life, his friends, family and studio customers. Benin is all about colour – Porto Novo is like a visual assault.In Leonce’s impressive portraits, wild combinations of locally designed Dutch imported textiles create extreme gradations between background, foreground, person and clothing. Leonce is part of a generation experiencing rapid change and his photographs capture the energy and unfettered zest for life of a people caught between tradition and progress.

Read the entire article here
Source: beautifuldecay.com


LEONCE RAPHAEL AGBODJÉLOU
September 16, 2010, by Wayneford

From Dahomey to Benin: Studio photography by Leonce Raphel Agbodjélou
In the 1930s and early 1940s, a thriving business of photographic portrait studios sprung up all over Africa, operated by photographers such as, Mama Casset (1908-1992), Augustt Azaglo (1924-2001), Seydou Keïta (1921-2001) and Mountaga Dembelé. Today these photographers are key names in the medium’s history, but just two decades ago, they were virtually unheard of outside of their home countries and cities.
‘As globalization spreads, it also exposes the fault lines of knowledge circuits that for such a long period remained Eurocentric,’ writes historian Okwui Enwezor, and in photographic history, the African continent lay squarely on one of these ‘fault lines’ for over a century.
To this day the portrait studio remains an important part of contemporary African culture and society, with many of those studio’s established in the early decades of the 20th century, being handed down from father to son. Arguably Benin's best known photographer Joseph Moise Agbodjélou, who has been included in numerous international exhibitions in recent years, opened his studio in 1960, a studio now run by his son Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, whose work is currently on show at the Jack Bell Gallery in London, the first time his vibrant and energy filled portraits have been shown outside of his home town of Porto-Novo, were he is ‘critically acclaimed.’
One of Benin’s thriving port cities, Porto-Novo is ‘undergoing a period of intense, and unplanned, economic growth — a densely populated strip of land, it has been hailed by the Dutch architect and city planner Rem Koolhaas as a visionary new metropolis.’ It is here, working from his daylight studio, that occupies the same location as the one founded by his father five decades ago, that Agbodjélou photographs his subjects.
Ranging from friends, family members and studio customers, Agbodjélou’s portraits are carefully composed and constructed, and whilst one can see in these impressive images traditional reference points, these colourful portraits reflect an ‘unfettered zest for life of a people caught between tradition and progress.

Read the entire article here
Source: wayneford.posterous.com


LEONCE RAPHAEL AGBODJÉLOU
September 2011, Art Wednesday

Vauxhall; as ever, art-lovers will be spoilt for choice during September. One rather superficial thing we’ve drawn from Leonce Agbodjélou‘s vibrant, almost cinematic portraits of the people from his hometown? We can think of a fair few indie directors who need to go back to pattern composition school (Wes Anderson and Zach Braff, we’re looking in your direction), because these portraits have them well and truly beat. Burn.
Read on:
Leonce’s subjects are the people of Porto-Novo, Benin (formerly Republic of Dahomey). His daylight studio photographs are drawn from street life, his friends, family and studio customers. Benin is all about colour – Porto Novo is like a visual assault. In these impressive portraits, wild combinations of locally designed Dutch imported textiles create extreme gradations between background, foreground, person and clothing. The images are straight out of urban market scenes and the hurly burly of bars, street stalls and traffic jams. In the capital, funeral processions sport specially designed fabrics to honour the dead. A family of four perched on a motorbike in fluorescent matching suits is commonplace. Leonce is part of a generation experiencing rapid change and his photographs capture the energy and unfettered zest for life of a people caught between tradition and progress. The photographer’s studio is, like the hairdressing salons of Porto-Novo, a meeting place for a diverse demographic and a site of exchange.
Critically acclaimed in his home country of Benin, Leonce has yet to be shown outside of Porto-Novo where he lives and works. One of Benin’s most thriving port cities, Porto-Novo is situated on a 150 kilometre stretch of coast extending eastwards along the Bight of Benin, from Togo to the Nigerian city of Lagos. Today it is undergoing a period of intense, and unplanned, economic growth – a densely populated strip of land, it has been hailed by the Dutch architect and city planner Rem Koolhaas as a visionary new metropolis.
Many of the once flourishing photo studios are about to become a thing of the past. The generation of photographers born in the 1930s and 1940s are either retiring or handing their businesses down to the next generation. Increasingly, digital labs are replacing traditional medium format photography. For photographers like Leonce, film, paper and chemical materials are increasingly difficult to come by.
Leonce was born in 1965 in Porto-Novo. He is one of four brothers from a family of photographers. His father, Joseph Moise Agbodjélou (born in 1912), is arguably Benin’s best know photographer. He gained his knowledge of photography whilst serving in the French army during World War II. Much later after his return to Benin, Joseph opened his own studio in Porto-Novo in 1960. Today Leonce continues to practice on that same site as the appointed successor to the family business. This year he has opened a photography school in an adjoining building – the first in Benin. Leonce’s oldest son, now fifteen, will be among the first group of students.

Read the entire article here
Source: artwednesday.com