From en.wikipedia.org Seydou Keïta was born in 1921 in Bamako, although the exact date is unknown. He was the oldest in a family of five children. His father Bâ Tièkòró and his uncle Tièmòkò were furniture makers. Keïta developed an interest in photography when his uncle gave him a Kodak Brownie with a film with eight shots in 1935, after returning from a trip to Senegal. In the beginning Keïta worked as both a carpenter and photographer, taking first portraits of his family and friends, later of people in the neighborhood. He learned photography and how to develop from Pierre Garnier, a French photographic supply store owner, and from Mountaga Traoré, his mentor. In 1948 he set up his first studio in the family house in Bamako-Koura behind the main prison.
From www.gallery51.com Considered to be one the important precursors of African photography, Seydou Keïta was born in Bamako (Mali) in 1920. Like many of his contemporaries, nothing particularly predestined him to become a photographer.
His uncles bring back a camera from a trip to Senegal, and the young Seydou is fascinated. He starts photographing his relatives and discovers a deep passion for this art.
Although he makes furniture for a living, he spends much time with Pierre Garnier who has his own studio. There, Seydou Keïta learns the secrets of the trade and soon realises that there was an enormous demand for individual pictures. This drives him to open his own studio in 1948. Up until then, whites had had a lot of trouble convincing local population to have their pictures taken, because they were so afraid to lose their identity. With Keïta it's different: he is one of them and permits them to choose their own picture that will be left for the close family. From then on, we see the opposite effect: people queue up to have their pictures taken. This is to become the great specialty of the malinese artist. Slowly he develops his own style, in which one finds accents of Mountaga Kouyaté's work, an intellectual that fought a bitter personal battle for the independence of Soedan.
To look their best, that is the sole desire of people in front of Keïta's lens. Keïta even gives them costumes, accessories and furniture to further enhance their appearance.Men, women and children, all look perfectly elegant. If we look beyond the aesthetics of the black-and-white pictures, Seydou shows us a portrait of Malinese society in full transition. Finally Seydou is to become the country's official photographer, and will stop working in 1977. Nevertheless, it will be many years before his work is noted at the famous "Festival of African Photography".
Seydou Keïta was born in Bamako, Mali in 1921, then part of the colony of French Sudan and a bustling transportation hub on the route to Dakar. With a Kodak Brownie given to him by his uncle, Keïta took up photography at the age of fourteen, going on to establish what would become Bamako's most successful portraiture enterprise of the 1950s and 60s. Photographs, Bamako, Mali 1949-1970 draws on an expanded archive to offer over 400 portraits, mostly unpublished, from the height of the photographer's productivity in downtown Bamako. Providing lushly patterned backdrops and props that now serve to date distinct periods in his career, the artist often styled his subjects but also encouraged their active participation, hanging sample portraits around the studio as inspiration. Migratory youth, government officials, shop owners and Bamako's cultural elite all make appearances here, and while Keït''s photographs served as both family record and cultural status symbol for the clients who commissioned them, these images have become a lasting visual record of Mali at that time
What began as simple curiosity blossomed into an object of national pride; when Seydou Keita bought a camera to take pictures of his family, neighbors assumed his services were for hire and enlisted him to take portraits of themselves and their homes, turning a carpenter into a photographer and a hobby into artistic expression. In such a way did the self-taught Keita become the official photographer of Mali from 1962 to 1977, based almost solely on his impeccable reputation for quality and originality that developed by word of mouth. This stunning collection of 206 black-and white-portraits illustrates Keita's pride in his country and his gift for capturing the personalities of his subjects. His aim was to create the most natural settings and poses for the people in front of the lens, putting them at ease and gently nudging them into surrendering their inhibitions. Keita utilized a wide variety of props to further this goal, including bicycles, telephones, radios, and musical instruments. He also kept a variety of clothing on hand--both traditional and European--to help his subjects achieve a desired look or style. What comes across most clearly in these photos is the beauty of the people; Keita brilliantly exposes their essence by focusing on their images. From Amazon