Long-lost picture archive celebrates glamour of 1950s Senegal

Africa Rising
November 8, 2019

A wedding party crams into a small car. Sharply-dressed men pose for the camera in a nightclub. A short-haired woman stands over a Vespa in a patterned dress and sunglasses.

Roger DaSilva's glamorous photos of 1950s and 1960s Senegal may have been shot in black and white, but they are alive with color.

Now, a new selection of the late photographer's images has been brought to light, after 75,000 of his long-lost negatives were found at his home. They paint a vibrant, celebratory picture of life in the West African country as it headed towards independence from colonial France.

Recovered from DaSilva's house by his son following his death in 2008, around 100 images from the archive have been painstakingly restored by the US-based Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. "A lot of the negatives were somewhere between being in poor shape and almost total disintegration," said the organization's executive director, Nicholas Fox Weber, in a phone interview.

But as well as demonstrating what Weber called "a unique spirit of optimism" in the postwar era, the archive also shines a light on the artistic sensibilities of a photographer whose legacy has been largely forgotten.

"When we know about Roger DaSilva -- and (what) is consistent in both his well-known work and these decrepit negatives -- is that he was, by instinct, drawn to the human smile, the human skills of dancing and making music, and human laughter," Weber said.