Barnor the Banner: Manuel Koranteng to mount exhibition on Nkrumah’s photographer in England

By Emmanuel Kojo Koranteng II Contributor
Diaspora (UK & Ireland) James Barnor
James Barnor

Ghanaian journalist Manuel Koranteng is set to mount a photo exhibition on the life and works of James Barnor, Ghana's iconic photographer and the personal lensman of the country's first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

James Barnor, renowned for his exceptional eye and unparalleled talent, documented the rise of a newly born nation, Ghana, capturing pivotal moments in its struggle for independence and the subsequent post-independence era.

The exhibition, aptly titled "Barnor the Banner: Rewinding Post-modernist Ghanaian Photojournalism, highlighting retro Gold Coast imagery," is slated for July 19, 2023, at the Phoenix Art Space in Brighton, England. Each photograph to be presented serves as a portal to a different era, showcasing the vibrant spirit and resilience of Ghana and its people. From iconic portraits to candid snapshots, patrons will have the opportunity to witness Ghana's history through Barnor's lens and experience the energy of a nation in transition.

As Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's personal photographer, 94-year-old Barnor had a front-row seat to history, and his photographs beautifully chronicle the cultural and political movements that shaped Ghana's identity. James Barnor established his famous Ever Young studio in Accra in the early 1950s, where he nurtured his passion for the career which will span more than six decades. His journey as a photojournalist started from the Daily Graphic where he was employed as the first staff photographer. He also worked with The Drum Magazine, a popular south African publication at the time.

He moved to London, returned to Accra with expertise to set up the country’s first ever colour photo processing studio, before finally going back to London where he has been based since the 1990s. Apart from working with Nkrumah, James’ cameras captured other iconic figures including J.B Danquah, Paa Grant, Muhammad Ali, Roy Ankrah, JJ Rawlings, Sir Emmanuel Charles Quist among others.

According to Mr. Barnor, he was "lucky to be alive when things were happening...when Ghana was going to be independent and Ghana became independent, and when I came to England the Beatles were around. Things were happening in the 60s, so I call myself Lucky Jim."

"Since the turn of the century, there have been several features of his work - emphasis on his work," says Manuel Koranteng, the curator. He adds that, "in this piece, however, I put Jim himself at the center. I combine the principles of portraiture to create fascinating flashbacks to his works of Ghana, as a newly born nation." With this unique curatorial approach, Manuel aims to shed light on both Barnor's incredible talent behind the camera and the captivating stories he captured.

Having been recognized by the Ghana Journalists Association as Komla Dumor Most Promising Journalist of the Year in November 2022, Manuel Koranteng brings his passion for storytelling and a keen eye for detail to this exhibition. Drawing from his experience as a Journalism graduate student at the School of Media, Arts, and Humanities at the University of Sussex, Manuel expertly weaves together the threads of Barnor's legacy to create a captivating narrative for visitors to immerse themselves in.

The Phoenix arts space, a dynamic venue known for its commitment to showcasing diverse artistic expressions, is the perfect setting for "Barnor the Banner." Located in the heart of Brighton, England, the gallery's contemporary atmosphere provides an ideal backdrop for the mesmerizing collection of photographs, enabling visitors to experience Ghana's history and culture first-hand.

Manuel’s exhibition of the works of James Barnor is part of a larger class project titled “Hidden Stories” with funding support from the University of Sussex. Under the leadership of celebrated photographer and Lecturer in Media Practice, Micheal O'Connell, sfour other students: Bahareh Ahadi; Sheeba Feroz; Mujeebullah Mirzaee; and Sarah Hill will be mounting other brilliant showcases on the day.

More on James Barnor’s works.
Barnor’s work was rediscovered in 2007 during the "Ghana at 50" jubilee celebrations by curator Nana Oforiatta-Ayim, who organised the first exhibition of his photographs at Black Cultural Archives (BCA). His works as studio portraitist, photojournalist and Black lifestyle photographer has been further heightened since 2010 when a major solo retrospective exhibition of his photographs, Ever Young: James Barnor, was mounted at Rivington Place, London, followed by a series of exhibitions including in the United States and South Africa.

His photographs were collated by the non-profit agency Autograph ABP during a four-year project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in 2011 became part of the new Archive and Research Centre for Culturally Diverse Photography.

The iconic photographs of ‘Lucky Jim’, have recently had showings in Ghana, France ( Paris Photo 2011, Galerie Baudoin Lebon; Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière), The Netherlands. The first monograph of his work, entitled James Barnor: Ever Young, was published in 2015, including an extensive conversation between Barnor and Margaret Busby with Francis Hodgson. The latest is the “James Barnor: Accra/London – Retrospect” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is currently ongoing in the USA.

About Manuel Koranteng
Manuel Koranteng is young Ghanaian Human Rights Journalist currently based in Brighton, England. He is the host and producer of the Talk 360 Podcast which is recorded in the studios of URF Radio, University of Sussex. Before moving to the UK in September 2022, Manuel worked as a Multimedia Journalist and News Anchor with Joy News and Joy Fm; both subsidiaries of Ghanaian broadcasting giant, The Multimedia Group Limited.

At JoyNews, Manuel Koranteng was one of the main on-field reporters of the station, covering a wide range of stories in health, security, human rights, politics, sanitation and environment. Apart from anchoring the station’s weekend TV news bulletins, he has also been a regular on the 6am news on Joy FM.

His award-winning story on a 10-year-old homeless boy who slept rough under the Kwame Nkrumah Interchange with his mentally deranged mother, caught the attention of the public forcing city authorities and officials of the Department of Social Welfare to quickly rescue little Ebenezer.

The child has since been in care while his mother continues to receive treatment from a mental health facility.


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