A major alternative visual history of Nigeria viewed through the lens of its premier photographer
Contributions by Kokunre Agbontaen-Eghafona, Eni Ehizibue Ehikhamenor, Tam Fiofori, Daniel E. Inneh, George Osodi and Theophilus Umogbai
Fragile Legacies showcases the extraordinary photographs of Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911–1994), one of Nigeria’s premier photographers and the first official photographer to the royal court of the Benin kingdom. Alonge’s photographs document a half-century of the Benin palace and the rituals, pageantry, and regalia of the obas (kings), and provide rare insight into the early histories and practices of studio photography in West Africa. His insider status provides an important perspective for examining the transformations of Benin City during the early to mid-twentieth century.
This volume explores the contemporary significance of S.O. Alonge’s photography and its relationship to the visual
arts and cultures of the Benin-Edo peoples. It is the result of a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian National
Museum of African Art and the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Nigeria, to preserve, research, and
publish the Alonge collection and to reveal its historical, artistic, and cultural significance to global audiences.
“Fragile Legacies clearly places Alonge among the great African photographers of the mid-20th century, showing us a
man passionate about photography, understanding of its role in serving historical memory, and critically located in Benin City, a magnificent artistic legacy and living kingdom.”—Jean Borgatti, PhD, Professor, Art History, University of Benin, Nigeria
“This book brilliantly joins together many voices from Nigeria and the geographic north, exploring and contemplating the oeuvre of photographer S.O. Alonge. It is a model for future collaborations and publications on photography and Africa. A must-read for anybody interested in world photography as well as Nigerian history!”—Christraud M. Geary, PhD, Curator emerita and scholar of photography in Africa
“The book offers unprecedented insight into mid-20th century Benin art, cultural history, and social life by presenting
the work of the court photographer and owner of the first photo studio in Benin City. Its multi-perspective approach
highlights what a treasure trove the Alonge photographic archive represents, not only for scholars of African photography or historians of the Benin kingdom but particularly for the Edo themselves and their culture of remembrance.”— Barbara Plankensteiner, PhD, Frances & Benjamin Benenson Foundation Curator of African Art
Yale University Art Gallery
Amy J. Staples is senior archivist in the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives at the National Museum of African
Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan conducted groundbreaking fieldwork in Benin, Nigeria, and is professor emerita of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, New York University.
Bryna M. Freyer is curator for collections at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Kokunre Agbontaen- Eghafona is a professor of anthropology at the University of Benin, Nigeria.
Eni Ehizibue Ehikhamenor has had a long career in photography, television, and film in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the United States. He opened a photography studio in Benin City in the 1960s.
Tam Fiofori has been a writer, filmmaker, and photojournalist for more than four decades. He was the founding secretary general of the Photographers Association of Nigeria.
Daniel E. Inneh is an accomplished bronze caster and a member of the distinguished Inneh royal bronze casting family.
George Osodi is an internationally acclaimed photographer, whose latest photography project, Nigerian Monarchs, documents the traditional kings and rulers of Nigeria.
Theophilus Umogbai is curator at the National Museum of Benin, Benin City, and a cultural research officer in ethnography.
Table of Contents
- Forewords by Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Yusuf Abdallah Usman
- Preface: Through the Lens of Benin-Edo Cultural Heritage: The Photography of Chief S.O. Alonge by Theophilus Umogbai
- Preface: Solomon Osagie Alonge: Celebrating Fifty Years of Nigerian Photography by Amy J. Staples
- Benin Timeline: A Selected History of the Obas
- Photography and Visual Culture in Benin
Chapter 1: Imaging | Imagining History by Amy J. Staples
Chapter 2: Remembering Solomon Osagie Alonge | Revisiting History by Flora Edouwaye S. Kaplan
Chapter 3: Redeeming the Image of the Benin Monarchy and People by Tam Fiofori
Photographing the Oba of Benin by George Osodi
- Benin Arts and Historical Memory
Chapter 4: Art as a Medium of Recording: Precolonial Benin Revisited by Daniel E. Inneh
Visualizing History: Bronze Plaques and Photographs by Bryna M. Freyer
Chapter 5: Photographic Record keeping in Benin: Ancient and Modern by Kokunre Agbontaen-Eghafona
Fancy Fabrics and Photography by Bryna M. Freyer
- The Ideal Photo Studio
Chapter 6: S.O. Alonge as Artist-Photographer- Social Documentarian by Amy J. Staples
An Interview with Eni Ehizibue by Ehikhamenor, Esan Photographer by Amy J. Staples
- Epilogue: Preserving a Fragile Legacy: Forging by Ties with a Nigerian Community by Amy J. Staples
- Selected Bibliography