Samuel Fosso Biography

Cameroon, 1962

Born in 1962, in a small village in Cameroon, Samuel Fosso was an early bird in photography. He started his own photographic studio in Bangui, capital of the Central-African Republic, as a remarkably precocious 13-year-old and began to make self-portraits only a year later. 25 years on, those self-portraits have now earned him international acclaim. Though his work has evolved completely independently of contemporary art photography, it is often compared with that of artists such as Cindy Sherman.

The studio Fosso opened as a teenager was called 'Studio Photo Nationale'. Often his clients needed their photos developed the next day, even though the roll of film wasn't yet full. Just for fun, he started using those otherwise wasted negatives to photograph himself in bizarre poses, a joke that soon turned serious when he decided to do those on a regular basis. His studio changed throughout the years - first he moved to 'Studio Confiance' (which was renamed 'Studio Gentil'), then 'Studio Hobereau', and finally to the current 'Studio Convenance' in 1982 - but to the present day Fosso remains committed to his self-portraiture.

Fosso's work moved from the private to the public domain in 1993, when the French photographer Bernard Descamps discovered it while searching for work to present in the first African photography exhibition (which later evolved into the Malinese Bamako photography biennial). Fosso was invited to visit Bamako and came into contact with the secret world of its art photography. He received the first prize for photography from the Parisian organization 'Afrique en Cr'ations', and was invited to Paris, where he exhibited at the FNAC. At this point, the ball really started rolling. Presentations at the Photographers' Gallery in London, the Guggenheim in New York, and many others followed.

He is now one of the most renowned young African photographers. His self- portraits, full of fabulous role-play, are suggestive of dreams enacted in a fantasy world that he creates in his own studio using backdrops and props. The work connects to our post-modern era without ever having striven towards such a status, but it is a play with serious overtones. Fosso's idiosyncratic and original approach wittily reflects on the sociological condition of 'African- ness': the local and global issues that affect the African sense of self- identity. His combination of a keen intelligence and a lightness of touch have afforded him a unique position in African photography.

The foreign contacts he now has are mainly an incentive to keep developing his work. When it comes to taking photographs, he still prefers to work in his studio in Bangui. Even when Vogue gave him a fashion photography assignment, he had the expensive haute couture shipped to his studio. The one exception to this rule is the series 'Tati' (from which the works on eyestorm are drawn). On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the chain of 'Tati' clothing stores, which mainly sells to immigrants in France, several African photographers were given photography assignments that were to be shot locally.

For Fosso, one of the invited photographers in this project, this was doubly unique. Not only was it the first project he had worked on outside of Bangui, it was also the first time he had worked with make-up and assistants. In 'Tati' he adorned himself to become a golfer, a biker, a lifeguard, etc. The series is a play on Western clich's, and the complex relationship between these 'ideals' and issues of African identity. Works such as the picture of the African chief - entitled the ones who sold Africa to the white people a century ago - are emblematic of Fosso's politicized intent and liberating sense of irony.

featured elsewhere within eyestorm

360: making faces (drag)

360: americana (american woman)

selected resum'

Selected Awards

'l'Exposition Internationale d'Art Contemporain Africain', First Prize in Photography, DAK'ART,

Senegal, 2000 Afrique en Cr'ations, 1995


'Africa Inside', Tampere, Finland, 2001

Galerie MaO Ollivier, Paris, 1999

Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France, 1998

'Les 50 ans de Tati', Magasines Tati, Paris, 1997

'L'Abattoir', Chalon-sur-Sa"ne, France, 1997

ArtothSque de Grenoble, France, 1996

Galerie du Th'?tre, Gap, France, 1996

'Festival des 3 Continents', Nantes, France, 1996

Centre National de la Photographie, Paris, 1995


'Africa Inside', Noorderlicht Photofestival, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, 2000

'Africa by Africa: A Photographic View', Barbican Art Gallery, London, 1999

'L'Afrique par elle-m^me', Maison Europ'enne de la Photographie, Paris, 1998

'Retrats de l'.nima', Centre cultural de la Fundaci¢ 'La CaOxa', Granollers and Vic, Spain,


'In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present', Solomon R Guggenheim Museum,

New York, 1996

'Festival Africa 95', Photographers' Gallery, London, 1995

'Photographes Africains', FNAC Forum, Paris, 1995

'Self-Portraits', First Bamako Photography Festival, Cameroon, 1994


Africa Inside, Fries Museum, The Netherlands, 2000

Vogue Hommes International

Creative Camera, London

Lib'ration, Paris

20-20, London

Images of Africa, Baobab Books, Zimbabwe