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National Museum of African Art Presents “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon”

“Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon,” opens at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Tuesday, Nov. 21, and will remain on display until Aug. 24, 2014.

The exhibition, an extension of FotoWeek DC (Nov. 1–10), celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives housed at the National Museum of African Art. The retrospective exhibition showcases the work of internationally renowned American photographer Eliot Elisofon.

As a photojournalist for Life magazine, Elisofon photographed the peoples, cultures, arts and landscapes of Africa, and he is celebrated as the first photographer to popularize post-World War II images of Africa and its leaders in American media. As a filmmaker, he worked on film and television projects, including the Black African Heritage Series (1972), a four-part documentary television series for the GE Westinghouse Group on African art and cultures. Elisofon also collected more than 700 objects of African art during his lifetime.

“I am delighted and proud that our museum is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Eliot Elisofon Archives and the work of this groundbreaking photographer,” said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, director of the National Museum of African Art. “Elisofon’s breathtaking images capture the traditional arts and cultures of Africa and are simply unparalleled. The enduring brilliance of his photographs expose a new generation to the breadth, depth and beauty of Africa.”

Curated by Amy Staples, the museum’s senior archivist, and Bryna Freyer, its senior curator, “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon” focuses on Elisofon’s innovative photography and its impact on portraying the diverse arts and cultures of modern Africa. The exhibition will be the first to pair his photographs with collected objects, films, books and journals from his collection of the first exhibition in 40 years to celebrate his photographic legacy.

“More than any other photographer of his time, Eliot Elisofon shaped American perceptions of Africa during the mid-20th century,” said Staples. “He focused his camera on traditional cultures as well as emerging artists and leaders during a time of major transition and independence movements in Africa. His photographs and art collection contributed to what became the National Museum of African Art.”
About the Photographer

Elisofon (1911-1973), whose career spanned four decades, was one of the 20th century’s most important photographers. He was a graduate of Fordham University and was a founder, president and active member of the Photo League where he lectured, taught and exhibited his work. Elisofon worked at Life magazine as a staff photographer and served as a color consultant in the motion pictures industry, notably contributing to John Huston’s Moulin Rouge (1952). As a writer and a photographer, Elisofon published several illustrated books, including The Sculpture of Africa (with William Fagg, 1958), The Nile (1964) and Color Photography (1964). He was a member of the Photo League (serving as president from 1940–1941), the Explorer’s Club and the Royal Anthropological Society (UK). Elisofon died in 1973 at age 62.

FotoWeek DC and Photography at the National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art together with the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum are partnering with FotoWeek DC (Nov. 1–10) to showcase the Smithsonian’s photographic works.

The National Museum of African Art will continue to exhibit important photographic works next year when it opens “Chief S.O. Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria,” a collection of historic photographs that were captured on Kodak glass-plate negatives and large-format film by Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge, one of Nigeria’s premier photographers during the 20th century. Alonge was the first indigenous photographer of the Royal Court of Benin. His photographs reveal an insider’s view of the pageantry, ritual and regalia of the Benin Kingdom spanning several decades, which includes historic visits to Benin by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (1956), foreign dignatories, traditional rulers, political leaders and celebrities.

Currently on display at the museum is “Lines, Marks, and Drawings: Through the Lens of Roger Ballen,” which is open through Feb. 9, 2014. The exhibition looks at the artist’s 40-plus years as an artist photographer through a new approach: an examination of line and drawing in his photographs. The exhibition features 55 works and one video and traces Ballen’s work during the past four decades.

Gallery Tours: “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon”

On Saturday, Nov. 23, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the National Museum of African Art’s POV gallery, co-curators Freyer and Staples will lead a public tour to explore the intricate relationships between Elisofon’s extensive archives and his personal collection of African arts, gifted to the museum in 1973. Highlights include Elisofon’s feature stories in Life magazine, his experimental art photographs, early color photography and motion picture films produced in Africa during the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The event free and opens to the public, but space is limited.


Major sponsorship for “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon” is provided by Credit Suisse, Pannonia Foundation and Dedalus Foundation.

About the National Museum of African Art

The National Museum of African Art is the nation’s premiere museum dedicated exclusively to the collection, conservation, study and exhibition of Africa’s traditional and contemporary arts. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free. The museum is located at 950 Independence Avenue S.W., near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, call (202) 633-4600 or visit the National Museum of African Art’s website. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.

Note to Editors: Photos from “Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon” may be downloaded by visiting the museum’s media website at and clicking on “press room.” To arrange an interview with the curators contact Eddie Burke at (202) 633-4660 or
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Press Release (Word Document)