By Nii B. Andrews.
By the time Michel “Papemi” Kameni stopped taking pictures in 2007 on account of his disability from bilateral cataracts, his photo archive had grown to 120,000 photographs of life in Yaounde.
During his long career, he developed a double exposure process in his darkroom, which involved him flipping the negative and moving the photo paper to create an inverted image of the same photograph.
He was also skilled at manipulating light so that his images appeared to have an amazing backlight.
Kameni’s photos date from 1963 and document the cultural changes that occurred in Cameroon especially the acceleration of Western influence.
They also record the agency of the people in fashioning out a new culture for their young African nation.
The photographs have only recently been shown at prestigious art fairs and galleries such as 1-54 and the October Gallery.
An art professional remarked, “(some of those) photographs are very sad but very strong; their composition reminds me of Renaissance paintings.”
How they were retrieved and brought to the world’s attention is another intriguing story that will need its own special event for retelling.
Kameni’s extraordinary photos are now part of the project – Portrait to Humanity; a collection of the work of diverse photographers that aims to show “the world through their eyes, to capture the many faces of humanity, and to document the universal expressions of life; laughter, courage, moments of reflection, journeys to work, first hellos, last goodbyes, and everything in between.”