Hopes and Dreams of “Modern Africa”, 1960-1965: Selected Photographs from The Marc & Evelyne Bernheim Collection

Surulere Estate, Lagos, Nigeria. Courtesy of Columbia University Libraries.
A new exhibition is currently on view in Knox Hall, 2nd Floor Hallway, 606 West 122nd Street, New York. Open to Columbia affiliates only. Curated by Dr. Yuusuf Caruso, African Studies Librarian, Columbia University, and co-sponsored by The Institute of African Studies and Columbia University Libraries.

This exhibition is just a very small sample from an extensive historical photograph collection on daily life in Africa during the 1960s, recently acquired by The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Columbia University. Marc & Evelyne Bernheim were Euro-American photojournalists who sought to document what they saw as “Africa’s new importance” and its “hurry for change, attempting to combine progress with tradition.” During the 1960s, they traveled to and photographed in many parts of Africa and produced a body of work that included books for young people about “modern” and “traditional” Africa. They also supplied photos for The New York Times, Conde Nast, Ebony, Life, and other media outlets, encylopedias, literary anthologies, and publications for organizations such as UNICEF and the New Haven Public Schools in Connecticut.

The twenty-six selected images on display consist of black-and-white or color portraits of anonymous and notable African men, women, and children, in selected urban and peri-urban centers of Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, and Zambia. They include artists, athletes, business people, dramatists, educators, historians, musicians, office workers, photographers, politicians, students, and writers.

Top: Papa Ibra Tall (Senegal); Afi Ekong (Nigeria); Chinua Achebe (Nigeria); Chantal Lawson (Togo); Bottom: Girma Belachew (Ethiopia); Geoffrey Geturo & Starehe School boys (Kenya); Chingola young musicians (Zambia). Courtesy of Columbia University Libraries.

These Africans captured on film some sixty years ago represented the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of a dynamic, newly independent Africa.

Before becoming professional photographers, Marc Bernheim, born in France, was a chemical engineering student at ETH Zurich (Switzerland) and earned a M.Sc. from Columbia University and Evelyne Bernheim, born in Austria, was a graduate of Barnard College and earned a Masters’ degree in “Hispanic Studies” from Columbia. Both persons are now deceased. Books by Marc and Evelyne Bernheim include: From bush to city: a look at the new Africa (1968) ; A week in Aya’s world: the Ivory Coast (1969) ; African success story: the Ivory Coast (1970) ; The drums speak: the story of Kofi, a boy of West Africa (1971) ; and, In Africa (1973).

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