A brand new exhibition captures West Africa in a interval of cultural transformation

Untitled, 1974

David Hill Gallery in London has opened a new exhibition of work by West African photographer Rachidi Bissiriou, titled Gloire Immortelle. It presents a selection of images taken by Bissiriou in his home country of Benin as it underwent crucial changes.

Born in 1950 in the village of Kétou, Bissiriou set up Studio Plaisir, a local photographic studio, when he was just 18. Founded shortly after Benin achieved independence from French rule in 1960, this artistic endeavour would lead him to capture the country and its people at a pivotal moment in history. Using a Yashica twin lens camera, he photographed the faces and the fashion of Benin society for the next three decades.

Untitled, 1968
Untitled, 1980
Untitled, 1978
Untitled, 1985

These beautiful black and white portraits, which exhibit a remarkably contemporary style, offer an insight into the emerging cultural trends of the time. Traditional West African garments are juxtaposed with flared trousers, billowing shirts and handbags, showing a newfound Western influence beginning to creep in.

The subjects themselves appear notably relaxed in front of the lens – a testament to Bissiriou’s connection with them, as cameras were often regarded with suspicion at the time. Intimately framed, they are given a rare chance for documented self-expression, presenting to Bissiriou subtle smiles and pensive expressions.

Untitled, 1986
Untitled, 1985
Untitled, 1974
Rachidi Bissiriou, auto portrait, mid 1970s. All images © Courtesy of David Hill Gallery and Rachidi Bissiriou

Gloire Immortelle is at David Hill Gallery in London until 29 July, and is accompanied by a book of the same name, published by Stanley/Barker; davidhillgallery.net; stanleybarker.co.uk