By Nii B. Andrews.
Roger da Silva was born in Porto Novo in 1925; he arrived in St Louis, Senegal in 1935. From 1942, he saw action in Alsace, the Rhine and Danube as a conscript in the French Army.
Following a war injury he was hospitalized at Béziers where the military surgeon made him a lab assistant and introduced him to photography.
His first pictures were of war wounded – some with horrendous burns, disfiguring wounds, dejected prisoners of war and much later ghoulish concentration camp inmates.
Da Silva returned to Dakar – the capital of French West Africa, in 1947. The city was a hotbed of African thinkers and academics; it was a time of profound and far reaching change.
He started out as a comedian and a tap dancer. But he continued with photography and made a priceless photographic record of the social events and changes in Dakar from 1947 through to 1970.
Fortunately, this huge archive reported to contain tens of thousands of negatives was rediscovered in his home after his death in 2008.
Over 100 of the images have been painstakingly restored by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. For the first time ever, they will be shown outside Senegal at the Also Known As Africa (AKAA) art and design fair to be held in Paris from November 9 – 11.
The photos provide a window into the social currents of pre-independence Dakar.
The social scene was bustling – weddings, night club and cocktail events, family ceremonies both secular and religious.
The joy of the youth and their zest for life all come through in the composition of the photos, even when shot in black and white.
Silva was a denizen of the high life with access to “high society” and exclusive circles.
His collection includes self-portraits with jazz icons – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong as well as photographs of Senegal’s first President Léopold Senghor.
The photos transmit the elegance of and camaraderie that the personalities shared at a time of great expectation and ambition; the prelude to the birth of a nation.
What we discern is a dynamic cosmopolitan culture with elements of modernity sitting alongside the traditional way of life.
We are the beneficiaries of DaSilva’s peripatetic lens.
As he left the confines of his studio and moved around, he captured for us an important fairly comprehensive archive of life in that great African city from 1947 – 1970.