Before Nollywood . . . The Ideal Photo Studio celebrates the photography of Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911–1994) and honors the work of African studio photographers. Largely unknown today, early Nigerian studio photographers struggled like their Nollywood successors with minimal equipment and finances, yet made significant contributions to the history of African photography and portraiture and to representing Africa’s changing communities.
Commercial photography studios were a thriving business in port cities across West Africa by the 1920s. Many Nigerians were first introduced to photography by itinerant photographers or by the growing number of photo studios in the coastal cities of Lagos and Calabar. During the 1930s and 1940s, rising urban centers like Ibadan and Benin City became hubs for small town photographers and local photo studios. In 1942, Solomon Osagie Alonge opened the Ideal Photo Studio, the first commercial photographic studio in Benin City.
Alonge’s studio portraits of Benin City residents in the 1950s and 1960s illuminate an untold history of Nigerian photographers and African studio portraiture. The portraits of the individuals and families on display here—featuring Alonge’s carefully selected costumes, furniture, flooring, backdrops, and props—are historical precursors to the celebrity portraits on view in Iké Udé: Nollywood Portraits. For many first-time visitors to the Ideal Photo Studio, Alonge provided a creative space for unique expressions of culture, ethnicity, and style through his subjects’ choice of textiles, fashion, poses, and with whom they chose to be photographed. In the years leading up to Nigerian independence from Britain, many of these portraits embodied optimistic aspirations for the future.
Amy J. Staples
Curator/Senior Archivist, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives
Edo language prepared by Ekhator-Obogie Osaisonor Godfrey, Institute of Benin Studies, Benin City, Nigeria