It’s been on my list and I was determined not to let it pass me by as so many other exhibitions have -so I headed off to see the Malick Sidibé exhibition at Somerset House early this evening. The exhibition is split into 3 sections: Nightlife in Bamako; Beside the River Niger; and The Studio. The thing that stuck me immediately were the prints. They were printed onto a glossy type paper and it looked like there were blu-tacked to the inside the frame mount …..Now that may well have been purposeful, in some way to reflect the time when the photographs were taken, but it seemed to be very ‘rustic’ in that sense. They also had a number of larger prints alongside smaller ones, which I think worked well with the pictures chosen for the larger frames:


What was also apparent was that some of the original negatives were damaged so this came through in the reprints. To mind this made the pictures all the more authentic.  Each picture seemed to have Sidibé having scribbled the name of the picture and the date, along with a later date for this writing, which initially confused me 🙂

However, printing and mounting aside, I really liked what I saw. Unlike with the Eggleston exhibition where there were some photographs which in my view could pass as contemporary, the Sidibé photographs are so much of their time. They have a vibrance and energy even in the monochrome of black and white that makes them intriguing. My favourites were from Nightlife in Bamako and The Studio. The pictures from Beside the River Niger had a very different quality about them, which sets them apart somewhat.

Sidibé used flash for the Nightlife in Bamako series which of course makes obvious sense, otherwise he would have shots of darkness. I am drawn to the shot below, not simply because it is of a man walking in the night, ready to party, but that I feel he is walking in from the darkness ,into the light (that will be the party). The flash works to highlight the subject and part of his pathway… but nothing else appears to be visible… it is as if he was enveloped by darkness and brought to light by Sidibé’s flash…. hmm I’m getting a little carried away here.. but it is how this photograph makes me feel.


The selection below are some favourite from across the three sections.

However my ultimate two favourites are the ones below … both of women, both which give a sense of empowerment and which demand you to look at them – “look at me”. There are differences in the approach taken to the shots (studio v location), perspective (looking down v straight on), but some similarities (the “assumed” use of flash), the well dressed, almost regal poses of the women and the striking beauty of the women in both pictures.

all photographs © Malick Sidibé

Even though the exhibition was only in three rooms and is not very big, mine was a whistle stop visit and I will return to spend some more time appreciating the selected curation of his work and to listen the accompanying Spotify soundtrack. It is well worth a visit and is on until 26.02.2017.

Before I go, there is a tenuous connection to project two in the sense of Nightlife in Bamako and The Studio – as they revolve around location and studio – which are two aspects to be covered in that project. When I do head back, having done some more research into classical portraiture, I will also have a look out to see if he incorporated any of this into his studio work, given that he had a background and a skill in drawing and would use this knowledge to position his subjects.


  1. Malick Sidibé – The Eye of Modern Mali. Exhibition booklet – Somerset House

Assignment criteria: 1 & 3