Photography is a witness to everything, a kind of proof of life. 
-Sanlé Sory

After apprenticing to a photographer and learning how to use a Rolleiflex twin lens camera and process prints, Sanlé Sory (b. 1943, Burkina Faso) opened his independent photographic studio in 1960. Only a few months later, Upper Volta, the country that is now known as Burkina Faso, gained independence from France. Located in Bobo-Dioulasso, the cultural capital of Burkina Faso, Sory’s VOLTA PHOTO was soon recognized as the finest photography studio in the city. Sory’s studio portraits served as key documents of the vibrant youth culture during the two decades that followed the independence. 

The photographs show Fula, Malian and Voltaic teenagers and young adults in their twenties posing and holding props in front of backdrops painted by artists from Ghana and Benin. Operating between tradition and modernity, some dress up as their favorite music icons, while others show off their modern fashion or gym physiques wielding props ranging from Air Afrique flight bags, radios, telephones, lamps, record players, and motorbikes – something to “help people make the picture their own”. 

Over three decades, Sory created a comprehensive body of work documenting the escape from everyday life in a rapidly changing place. In some ways, his subjects show the remoteness and melancholy of a landlocked state while also conveying the dynamic excitement for a new future flourishing from postcolonial independence. Using his camera for documentary and aesthetic purposes, Sory’s photographs complicate and complement photography’s role in social and cultural shifts. 

Sanlé Sory’s photographs have been exhibited publicly only since 1998, with his first solo presentations in Morocco, Burkina Faso, and the United Kingdom in 2016-2017. The artist’s first U.S. solo museum exhibition, Volta Photo: Starring Sanlé Sory and the Good People of Bobo-Dioulasso in the Small but Musically Mighty African Country of Burkina Faso, opened at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018 with an accompanying catalog by Steidl Verlag. In the past year, photographs by Sory have been acquired for the permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; North Carolina Museum of Art; RISD Museum and the Tang Museum at Skidmore College. Sory was born in Nianiagara, Burkina Faso and currently lives in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.

Opening october 18th

Sanlé Sory: Volta Photo