Malick Sidibé was an inspirational genius

Amis des Espagnole, 1968: Malick Sidibé was popular with the youth in Bamako because of his ability to make his subjects "look like the rock'n roll idols". Photos courtesy MAGNIN-A Gallery

Amis des Espagnole, 1968: Malick Sidibé was popular with the youth in Bamako because of his ability to make his subjects "look like the rock'n roll idols". Photos courtesy MAGNIN-A Gallery

I’ve always admired Malick Sidibé’s work. Those black-and-white portraits of young Malians he shot in the 1960s and 1970s made me feel proud. The fashions and poses of the youth he captured in and outside of his studio still speak volumes.

While I was studying photography, I had to learn about his work but I never thought in my wildest dreams that one day I would meet this genius.

I met Sidibé in 2005 in Bamako, Mali, when I was participating in a two-week photo workshop. The participants went to visit him in his studio, Studio Malick.

Dressed in his traditional clothes – complemented by the broad smile on his face – Sidibé warmly welcomed us.

Inside the studio were shelves filled with antique cameras and his memorable photos hung framed on the wall.

My eyes could not stray from the many boxes all over the studio that had different dates written on them – testimony that Sidibé had been around for many years, documenting the lives of his people. I guess that’s where he stored his precious negatives and the many photos he took over all those years.

Because of the language barrier, Sidibé had an interpreter by his side. He spoke patiently about his work, his struggles and his eventual successes. He was in a jovial mood and now and then he would crack a joke as he showed us his work and how he would photograph his subjects.

He had many clients who insisted that only he must photograph them. To ease the tension for the newcomers and to make them feel comfortable, Sidibé would first have a conversation with them. Thereafter he would release the shutter of his camera and ­create magic.

I was amazed by the way he carried himself. We could relate to him and he related to us. His charm was infectious. I was inspired after listening to him talk about how he fought against all odds and emerged triumphant.

At the end of his talk, he took a group photo with us outside his famous studio. It was then that I realised that if I keep taking photos that I am passionate about and represent my people in a dignified and unashamed manner, my work will speak for itself.

I feel privileged to have met this great man – may his soul rest in peace.

 
Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi

Oupa Nkosi began taking photos in 1998 with a pawnshop camera, before enrolling at the Market Photography Workshop. He began freelancing after graduating and has since run community projects, won a Bonani Africa award, had his work selected for exhibitions in Zimbabwe and Japan, and been invited to international workshops. He began at the M&G as an intern and is now chief photographer. He also writes features for the paper and lectures at his alma mater. Read more from Oupa Nkosi

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