Home | History of Benin | Early Photography in Nigeria | S.O. Alonge: The Early Years | Ideal Studio, Benin City | Picturing a New Society | Ideal Studio Portraits | Ideal Studio Setting | Royal Court Photography | Commemorative Objects
Picturing a New Society
From the 1930s onwards, S.O. Alonge used his craft to document the social life of Benin City, its emerging elite, and the rise of new businesses, industries, and organizations. He traveled by bicycle to photograph social events, including weddings, birthday parties, graduations, and sporting events. Alonge was called upon on a regular basis to photograph group portraits of schoolchildren, church groups, athletic and social clubs, and civic organizations. As a successful businessman and civil servant, Alonge became part of the new elite society in Benin City. He was a founding member of the Benin Social Circle and highly respected among his peers, teachers, and community leaders.
The Ideal Studio, opened in 1942, generated individual and family portraits for the new residents of Benin City. His portrait photography illustrates how local Benin residents presented themselves to the camera and how they engaged with the photographer and the practice of studio photography for the first time. Some patrons wanted to be photographed with their prized possessions—sporting trophies, Victrola phonographs, new bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.
Sporting Events and Group Portraits
Tennis was popular with British colonials and Oba Akenzua II, who often attended matches featuring local players. Trophies were awarded, and Alonge took portraits of the winners.
Oba Akenzua II had been a soccer player at King’s College and encouraged the sport during his reign (1933–78). Soccer teams formed and competed with local colleges. Their matches became occasions for group portraits by Alonge.
Benin Social Circle
Founded in 1935, the Benin Social Circle was at the center of the new society in Benin City. Founded by Elijah Osahene Gbinigie and other prominent citizens, this was a group of respected businessmen, teachers, and educated elites. They held monthly meetings, hosted lectures and debates, and sponsored social events like ballroom dances and picnics. While the Benin Social Circle was a male society, the wives of members participated in all activities and events.
In Benin City, Alonge became the professional photographer of choice for local weddings. In this photograph, he captured an unidentified bride and groom in an endearing wedding portrait. Each wears a single white glove from a pair and stand arm in arm, expressing their union with subtle symbolism. The bride’s Western style wedding gown shows creases from packing and may have been ordered from Lagos or England.