Volta at Yossi Milo

Art Scene

Volta at Yossi Milo

Photographer Sanlé Sory’s portraits capture a vibrant and imaginative self-assurance, offeringan exquisite glimpse into youth culture from 1960-1980 in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. On view for the first time in a gallery in the United States, Volta Photoat Yossi Milo Gallery gives New Yorkers a chance to see 90 of Sory’s black and white studio portraits mounted in a dynamic three-room installation accentuated by graphic black and white walls and floors. The exhibition runs in concurrence with Sory’s first U.S. solo museum exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Sanlé Sory, Allo, on arrive !, 1978, Gelatin Silver Print, © Sanlé Sory, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

The images were shot at the photographer’s Volta Photo studio, opened in 1960 in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second largest city after the nation’s capital,Ouagadougou. The opening of the studio in 1960 took place shortly after the country gained its independence from its colonial ruler, France. An intercontinental pollination of styles is evident in the portraits that often include props and backdrops. Traces of French “savoir faire,” American pop culture, and African swagger among other accents can be seen in the photographs.

Sanlé Sory, Belle de jour, 1975, Gelatin Silver Print, © Sanlé Sory, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Sory was active in his home city’s music scene and worked a handful of jobs including record sleeve illustrator, regional reporter and event photographer. His wide social and professional reach seems to have influenced his portrait sessions, where his sitters were encouraged to participate in their own imaginative image making. Some of his subject-collaborators wear costumes, while others use props – telephones, newspapers, or chairs. In a few cases female subjects are shot elegantly without any background distractions. However, in contrast, several portraits utilize Sory’s hand painted backdrops of tropical scenes, urban centers or classic European architecture.

Installation view of Sanlé Sory: Volta Photo West Gallery ©Yossi Milo Gallery

Sory’s camera of choice, a twin-lens Rolleiflex 6×6 camera, framed his young Fula, Malian and Voltaic subjects, who were both customers and friends, in a square format. The installation of groups of these images in the gallery space is reminiscent of a 21st century Instagram feed full on someone’s closest friends inventing their personhood in a portrait.

Sanlé Sory, Elvis, 1974, Gelatin Silver Print, © Sanlé Sory, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

A cool character smoking a cigarette, a kiss between lovers, international travelers flying on Air Afrique, or an astute metropolitan citizen reading the paper, are just some of the plot lines infusing the stories found in Sory’s portraits. An everyday confidence and the fun of portraiture can both be found in the stances and poised facial expressions of Sory’s subject-collaborators. The body and its geometry speak volumes, as relaxed hips, bent elbows, eyes covered in sunglasses, shirtless freedom, or a direct gaze reveal a cool, liberated optimism of the day. A language that, undoubtedly, Sory spoke as well.

Volta Photo is on view at Yossi Milo Gallery through June 23, 2018.

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