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James Barnor: Accra/London, Serpentine Review

Barnor will soon be celebrating his ninety second birthday. His retrospective at the Serpentine is a joyful record of a life in two countries (Ghana and the UK) between the 1950s and 80s. Born in Accra in 1929, Barnor came from a family of photographers and served an apprenticeship with his cousin before founding the Ever Young photographic studio in Accra in the early 50s. The first wall of photos in the show are a striking record of both a colonial past and the transformation into an independent nation. Ghana gained independence in 1957 and Barnor was there to capture it. A commercial photographer as well as a photo journalist, the photos combine public gatherings, social events and studio photographs.

James Barnor will soon be celebrating his ninety second birthday. His retrospective at the Serpentine is a joyful record of a life in two countries (Ghana and the UK) between the 1950s and 80s. Born in Accra in 1929, Barnor came from a family of photographers and served an apprenticeship with his cousin before founding the Ever Young photographic studio in Accra in the early 50s. The first wall of photos in the show are a striking record of both a colonial past and the transformation into an independent nation. Ghana gained independence in 1957 and Barnor was there to capture it. A commercial photographer as well as a photo journalist, the photos combine public gatherings, social events and studio photographs.

In 1959 Barnor arrived in London - a city about to swing. Again, the mixture of commercial shoots - he worked for the South African magazine Drum and photographed Muhammad Ali - and records of intimate social gatherings with friends and work colleagues makes for a strikingly fresh record of 60s' England.

At the end of the decade, Barnor returned to Ghana with a splash of colour, establishing the first colour film processing lab in the country. People flocked to have colour portraits taken and the last section of the show combines informal photos and commercial commissions.


Above all, Barnor's optimism, humanity and warmth shines through. When I went to the press preview, Barnor himself was there - I had missed the press Q&A and he was in a side room having his lunch. I could hear his self-deprecating, cheery voice through the half open door and as I left caught a glimpse of his lean frame. I waved and clapped and got a huge grin and a smiley thumbs up in return. A life lived. The perfect reason for a jaunt to Hyde Park. Hugely recommended for the whole family - and it's free! 👏 📸 🇬🇭 🇬🇧


James Barnor: Accra/London - A Retrospective runs at The Serpentine North until 22 October. Free but booking essential. Click here to book.


Emily Turner, 19 May 2021