Roger DaSilva was born in 1925 in Benin and first took up photography when he joined the French army in 1942. He began documenting injured soldiers, as well as the return of concentration camp survivors after the 1945 armistice. Following World War II, he settled in Dakar and in 1953 set up a studio in the city where he documented postcolonial life and the optimism that pervaded the country as it became an independent nation.
DaSilva's glamorous black and white photos of 1950s and 1960s Senegal paint a vibrant, celebratory picture of life in the West African country, as it headed towards independence from colonial France. What they reveal is a rarely-seen world of jazz shows, nightclubs and stylish cars in Senegal's capital. While DaSilva was primarily a portrait photographer, he also spent time documenting street scenes and weddings, among many other events. The photos were all taken in the decade before -- and years immediately after -- April 1960, when Senegal obtained independence from France in one of the more peaceful and politically stable transitions from colonial rule.
His photographs celebrate the mixing of African and Western cultures and reflect the jubilation and optimism that defined the era. A dandy who was also an actor and a tap dancer, Roger DaSilva had access to both high society and the jet-set circles of the time. In his photographs, we see DaSilva alongside Ella Fitzgerald, Ingrid Bergman and Louis Armstrong. This self-portraiture in his work is a particularly unusual feature in African photography and art of the time, which for several decades had been characterized by the anonymity of the artist. For decades, the anonymity of both artist and sitter has been a principal characteristic of African art and photography. The existence of the DaSilva collection of images, including his self-portraits, resonates powerfully and underlines the strong agency and intent of the photographer as an author in full possession of his narrative.
DaSilva made about 75,000 images during his lifetime. The long-lost negatives were found at his home by his son Luc, after his death. Although well known in Senegal, DaSilva's international recognition is belated -- he never had an exhibition of his work during his lifetime. Luc has helped to preserve and promote his father's -- and Africa's -- photographic heritage through his organization Xaritufoto. Le Korsa and The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation have helped to restore 100 of DaSilva’s recovered negatives.
• Oscar Holland. “Long-lost picture archive celebrates glamour of 1950s Senegal.” CNN Style, November 21, 2019. Accessed April 1, 2023. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/senegal-roger-dasilva/.
• Maya V. El Zanaty. Roger daSilva, des « gueules cassées » au « Studio Gueule Tapée » : la photographie pour réparer la vie. 2019.
• Sarah Rose Sharp. “The Glamour of 1950s Senegal in Photographs.” Hyperallergic, October 22, 2019. https://hyperallergic.com/523993/the-glamour-of-1950s-senegal-in-photographs/.
• “Les archives de Roger DaSilva dévoilent le chic sénégalais des années 50.” BBC News Afrique, November 10, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/afrique/region-50366846.