Sory Sanlé – Volta Photo, 1965-1985

Biography

Born in 1943 in Nianiagara, Burkina Faso, lives and works in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.

Ibrahima Sory Sanlé started his photographic career in Bobo-Dioulasso the very year his country became independent from France in 1960 under the name of République de Haute-Volta. As a young apprentice working with a Ghanaian boss, he learnt to work with a photographic chamber, before processing and printing his own pictures Like many African photographers of his generation, he chose the 6x6 format. He was privileged enough to document the fast evolution of his own city, Bobo-Dioulasso, then Haute-Volta's cultural and economic capital.

He captured the frontal collision between modern life and centuries-old traditions from this culturally rich and rural region.

He started his career by documenting highway wrecks in and around Bobo, travelling on motorbike all over the region. In the mid-1960's,
he opened up his own Volta Photo, soon to become the city's finest photo studio. Fully dedicated to his art and work, he followed his own rule: 'the more you like something, the more you invest yourself in your passion'.

He worked as a reporter, a record sleeve illustrator, an official photographer but mostly as a clever studio photographer. Very active,
he portrayed Bobo-Dioulasso's people with wit, energy and sheer passion. His background paintings, be they a modern city, a beach walkboard, an airplane or an antique column were quite outstanding and unlike those of any other photographers in his own country.

Be they still or moving maliciously, his subjects illustrate in many ways the remoteness and melancholy of African cities landlocked deep in the hearf of the continent. They also convey some youthful exuberance in the wake of the first decades of African independences. His lens witfully reviewed the natural fusion operating between tradition and modernity. His black and white images truly magnified this golden era before 24x36 format and common color films added up to what William Eggleston called the 'democratic forest', an endless dilution of the photographic view within public space.

Unknown, forgotten or unsung, Voltaic photography's golden age is fully embodied by Sory Sanlé whose images, preserved for many decades, display some unique social and cultural effervescence. Adorned with some natural elegance, his Bobo-Dioulasso's photographies stand in for Renoir's words according to which 'the more local, the more universal'.

Florent Mazzoleni