Aperture interviews Self Portrait artist Samuel Fosso


Aperture sits down with influential Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso. Fosso began his photographic work in the early 1970's where he took studio and wedding portraits of private clients and families. As a means of using up remaining film from these shoots, Fosso turned the camera on himself and began taking elaborate self-portraits in a wide range of costumes. These photos would remain private until 1994 when Fosso first gained international recognition. In the years since Fosso would continue to use the self-portrait to experiment with gender, style and theatrical performance to become one of the most significant figures in contemporary African art. Read the full interview at Aperture.

Chatap: What was the motivation behind your first self-portraits in the 1970s?

Fosso: I opened my own studio on September 14, 1975. I started taking pictures of myself to make up for the absence of photography in my childhood. I used the last frames on rolls of film because I didn’t want to waste them. When I closed the studio for the day, I would take pictures of myself and send the images to my grandmother in Nigeria. I had clothing custom-made based on things I saw in magazines, mostly Afro-American ones.

Chatap: Your inspirations in adventurous fashion can be seen in your first images in the 1970s. Did you have icons in mind when you made those photographs?

Fosso: If you take the example of Nico Mbarga—I was mostly inspired by him, especially by his outfits. I had clothing made, and I bought shoes called talons dames that you couldn’t find in central Africa. As for Fela Kuti, it was political because there were denunciations. We still weren’t free, and so we couldn’t just do whatever we wanted. From 1977 to 1980, and especially before democracy, conditions weren’t easy, particularly because of the political denunciations. That scared me because I didn’t want to get arrested.

Chatap: So, you were aware that your approach could have political consequences?

Fosso: I was aware that there were political consequences and, as a result, I couldn’t just do whatever I wanted.