Roger DaSilva’s rediscovered archive reveals 1950s Senegal chic

A woman sitting on a moped by the roadside poses for the camera.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Celebrities, presidents and partygoers are all part of a rich archive of images from Senegal in the 1950s and 1960s mostly unseen by the public until now.

They are the work of World War Two veteran Roger DaSilva who set up his own photo studio in the capital Dakar – “Studio Da Silva” – where many of these photos were taken.

“He was an artist at heart,” his son Luc DaSilva tells the BBC. “Photography was his life.”

Men dressed in boxing shorts with bandaged hands pose in a line for the camera.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A toddler wearing a T-shirt, dungarees and lace-up shoes poses inside the camera studio.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Men and women dance in couples.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Roger DaSilva was never formally exhibited during his lifetime yet he had a vast body of work of about 75,000 photographs on negatives, most of which remain unseen.

They have since been restored by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Le Korsa and Luc DaSilva’s Xaritufoto organisation – with a selection of these now on display at this weekend’s Also Known As Africa art and design fair in Paris.

Two women pose for the camera in the photographer's studio.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A woman, Madame Gomez, poses on top of car with two young children stood by the vehicle.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Image caption

A woman, Madame Gomez, poses on top of car with two young children stood by the vehicle.

Men and women dressed in eveningwear are seen sitting down and talking with drinks and cigarettes in hand.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Roger DaSilva was born in Benin and took up photography when he joined the French army in 1942.

“He was wounded while in service, so a colonel drafted him in to take medical photos in hospitals – some were of people who had survived concentration camps,” Luc says.

Soon after the war ended DaSilva decided to settle in Senegal.

At that time, Senegal like many other African countries was on the cusp of independence. DaSilva’s photographs capture Dakar’s high society of the era – the upscale nightclubs and weddings, as well as family portraits and street scenes.

Three men dressed in loose shirts and holding cigarettes stand by the bar.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Men dressed in white boubous and turbans walk together. One of them is sheltered from the sun by another man who holds a parasol over his head.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A man and baby girl pose for the camera in the photographer's studio.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A woman poses on the studio floor in a white wedding gown, lace gloves and veil.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Three young girls wearing matching dresses, earrings and threaded hairstyles sit in a line and pose for the camera.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A sharply dressed chauffeur poses with his vehicle outside Roger DaSilva's studio.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

DaSilva cut a chic figure himself, as his self-portraits show. In one, we see him poised with a cigarette in hand.

Another shows him shaking hands with US jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald at the 1966 World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar.

Roger DaSilva shakes hands with US jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald in a self-timed photograph.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

He also met and photographed jazz musician Louis Armstrong there, alongside Oscar-winning actress Ingrid Bergman.

US jazz musician Louis Armstrong (C) smiles and shakes hands with another man.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Another notable subject he captured was Senegal’s first president, Léopold Sédar Senghor.

“I think all of them made a big impression on him,” Luc says. “But Satchmo [Louis Armstrong’s nickname] was his favourite singer.”

Security personnel flank Léopold Sédar Senghor, then-president of Senegal, who shakes hands with an unseen man.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A young man and woman smile for the camera as they embrace.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

A elder woman sits at the entrance to a home, alongside infants, children and young adults.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Restoration of these images has been a joint effort over several years.

“There’s a spirit of joy and gaiety in my father’s photos, I feel very close to his work,” says Luc.

“This is about archive and memory, and preserving and valuing African photography. It’s a shared heritage.”

Roger DaSilva poses for a self-timed photograph with a cigarette in hand.Image copyright
Roger DaSilva/Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Image caption

Roger DaSilva 1925 – 2008

All images taken by Roger DaSilva, copyright of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation and courtesy of Xaritufoto and Le Korsa.

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