Saint-Louis du Sénégal
On the main street, on the corner, just across from the market and next to the veterinarian, the Kodak sign indicates Oumar Ly’s Studio. Two large hinged door sections, held on each side by a stone, leaving a view into the inside of the studio, a bench and a display cabinet where old black and white photographs are pinned. Oumar Ly, photographer and master of the house, is there this morning as he prepares the tea for his childhood friends, today retired. Together, they enjoy the moment chatting, before lunchtime will separate them. Mister Ly closes then the boutique to return in direction of the Thioffy neighborhood, where his house is.
By the time he was born, in 1943, the concession – a large yard surrounded by small houses – was still a Koranic school that his father, a witch doctor (a ‘marabout’), would run. The school was functionning until the mid 40’s, when he became – thank to his mastery of the French and Arab languages – employee of Guillaume Foy. Young Ly was never taught to read or write. He was, as dictated by tradition, sent to a marabout to perfect his religious education. At the age of 14, his older brother fetched him to work in the crops in their small family land. One Sunday in the Podor Fort, while Oumar Ly was delivering some greens, he remembers being captivated by a man holding a camera. He would watch him. He would watch him take a photograph of him.
And, as young Ly leaves with his portrait, he dreams of having his own camera. Later on, by the pier in the Morel et Prom shop, just next to his father’s business, he finds a Kodak Brownie flash, for 1500 CFA Francs. The photographer Demba Assane Sy will introduce Oumar to framing and lab work.
In 1963, Oumar Ly opens the first photo studio in his town. Photography is in fashion, so everybody rushes into Thioffy studio. With his Rolleiflex in a suitcase, the photographer leaves to roam the small villages for the census campaign.
Portrait de brousse, Oumar Ly, Filigranes Editions
May 21-June 24