The Artsy Vanguard 2020: James Barnor

Daria Simone Harper
Sep 11, 2020 8:00PM

James Barnor

B. 1929, Accra, Ghana. Lives and works in London.

Over the span of six decades, British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor opened a studio in Accra, Ghana, where he took portraits of community members and public figures; worked as a photojournalist documenting historic sociopolitical changes in London and Accra; and was regularly commissioned to shoot for Drum magazine, a prominent anti-apartheid journal. While Barnor is known for his striking black-and-white portraits and playful editorials, he frequently shot in color in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1969, he retured to Ghana after a decade in London and opened the first color-processing lab there in 1970.


In recent years, the 91-year-old photographer has garnered increased recognition for his dynamic documentation of African diasporic people. In 2010, Autograph ABP began presenting the ongoing traveling exhibition of Barnor’s work, “Ever Young,” which features new prints from archival negatives alongside vintage prints from the late 1940s through the early ’70s. Since 2015, his work and archives have been managed by Paris’s Galerie Clémentine de la Féronnière; the following year, he began showing with London’s October Gallery.

Barnor’s recent and upcoming shows highlight the importance of his contributions to photography, both at home and abroad. Last year, the new Nubuke Foundation in Accra presented a monumental retrospective of Barnor’s work, marking the first time that Ghana has hosted a retrospective of a native photographer. In Spring 2021, London’s Serpentine Galleries will open a major retrospective of Barnor’s work. His work is found in the collections of major institutions including the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Tate Modern, the Musée du Quai Branly, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Artsy Vanguard 2020

The Artsy Vanguard 2020 is our annual list of the most promising artists shaping the future of contemporary art. This year, artists are organized into two categories: Newly Emerging, which presents artists who’ve gained momentum in the past year, showing at leading institutions and galleries; and Getting Their Due, which identifies artists who have persevered for decades, yet only recently received the spotlight they deserve. Now in its third edition, the feature was developed by the Artsy staff, in collaboration with our network of international curators and art professionals. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2020.

Daria Simone Harper

Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: James Barnor, “Nifa Nifa”; James Barnor, “Osofo Dadzie,” 1975; Portrait of James Barnor by Jonathan Greet; James Barnor, “Elrin Ilbreck at Trafalgar Square,” ca. 1966. All images: courtesy of the artist and October Gallery.