"I believe with my heart and soul in the power of the image," Malick Sidibé, the Eye of Bamako, proclaimed in 2008. Known for capturing the growth in culture (specifically popular culture) in Mali, the pioneering photographer has passed away at the age of 80.
Sidibé was loudly applauded time and time again for his eye-catching work, his powerful black-and-white images of 1960s post-Malian independence pop-culture iconic of the era. “When I began to take photographs, I never imaged that my photos would travel around the world," he once said. Since the sixties, Sidibé (born in Mali in 1936) has produced photographs in his studio, Studio Malick, in Bamako, Mali. The photographer worked with a French photographer leading up to this and was, at the tiem, the youngest photographer in his city. He was the only person with a flash, so he was able to go take photos at night at parties (he recalls that "in the 1960s, girls would sneak out of their houses to go dance. They would put something in their father’s glass of water so he would sleep and not notice when they left the house," and Sidibé would truly bring life to his studio.
“Young people enjoyed having their photo taken in their best attire, with their new earrings, curled hair, showing off their best watch, their bracelets… Everyone likes to be beautiful in photographs.”
He earned the title as the "Eye of Bamako" for his work permeating the Bamako streets, word spreading of his talent and eye for beauty in each and every of his subjects. Music influenced his work, the tunes of the time infused in his photos, turning icons into timeless statements. When later interviewed by countless art and photography lovers, he would often be found speaking with his eyes closed, as though transporting himself to his studio in Bamako, his voice faraway as he would recollect the days of his portrait-taking, history-making work. "My photographs are a kind of tourism because it’s as if you’re traveling to Mali when you see them. Photographs are reality: they never lie, and that’s important to me. I’ve developed all of my own negatives and have them categorized in my studio." His photos really helped people see Mali in a new light and in 2007, was the first African winner of the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the Venice Biennale.
In a Guardian interview, also in 2010, Sidibé said a good photographer needed the “talent to observe, and to know what you want” but also to be sympathique, or friendly. “I believe with my heart and soul in the power of the image, but you also have to be sociable. I’m lucky. It’s in my nature,” he said.