Born circa 1936 in Soloba, Malick Sidibé ran a photography studio in Bamako, Mali. “I was a peasant child who raised animals. Because where I come from, they say that if you raise animals you are a good peasant, because animals provide good organic fertilizer”, he recalls in an interview with GwinZegal. His life took a different path when he was selected to attend the School of Sudanese Craftsmen in Bamako.

The first African to receive the Hasselblad Award, his work documents a transitional moment as Mali gained its independence and transformed from a French colony steeped in tradition to a more modern independent country looking toward the West. He captured candid images in the streets, nightclubs, and sporting events and ran a formal portrait studio. “With his 35mm camera, he captured the new urban elite: the Malians who had absorbed the stylistic cues of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and James Brown“, The Guardian writes. “His workshop—door 632 on street 508—cannot be found on a map. To find it requires asking around Bagadaji. Everyone knows, though the photographer retired years ago.” Mr. Sidibé died late Thursday, April 15. He was 80 years old.

I have to tell you, music liberated African youth from the taboo of being with a woman. They were able to get close to each other, which is why I was always invited to these parties. I had to go in order to record these moments, when a young man could dance with a young woman close up. We were not used to it. They liked seeing themselves dancing with a woman, even if she wasn’t their girlfriend. They could tell their friends that they had got her, that she was theirs now… It was a very powerful moment for young Malian men to see themselves dancing with a girl. That didn’t exist before.

— Malick Sidibé

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