Part­ing Shot


‘Le Ven­deur Séné­galais Qui Fume,’ Sory Sanlé, 1972

IN 1965, when Burk­ina Faso was the République de Haute-volta and only five years free of French colo­nial rule, the pho­tog­ra­pher Ibrahima Sory Sanlé opened a shop in the thriv­ing city of Bobo-dioulasso. Many came to Volta Photo to strike a pose. Some clients stood be­fore Sanlé’s elab­o­rately il­lus­trated back­cloths. Oth­ers pre­ferred to fill the frame them­selves, like this sharp-suited Sene­galese sun­glasses sales­man, with a mous­tache as thin as his cig­a­rette, and a lot­tery ticket in place of a pocket hand­ker­chief.

The images ex­ist be­cause of a French record pro­ducer, Florent Maz­zoleni, who no­ticed the pho­tog­ra­pher’s work on lo­cal al­bum cov­ers while re­search­ing West African mu­sic. When, in 2010, he even­tu­ally tracked down Sanlé, he was in the process of burn­ing his ar­chives; no­body cared about his old work, was the ex­pla­na­tion. Thanks to Maz­zoleni’s in­ter­ven­tion, most of the neg­a­tives sur­vived the flames—thou­sands of images from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s—and the pho­tog­ra­pher had his first ex­hi­bi­tion in 2013. In a film on a web­site cre­ated by Maz­zoleni, Sanlé, now 74, ex­presses plea­sure over the re­sult­ing fame. But his stu­dio re­mains much the same, its name now com­mem­o­rat­ing a van­ished coun­try. “Volta Photo, Burk­ina Photo,” he says. “It doesn’t change any­thing about my rates.”

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