Seeing the FADER style department's handiwork mounted on ICP walls (photographer Krisanne Johnson and contributing Style Editor Mobolaji Dawodu's ATL fashion story) was one of the biggest reasons to be cheerful on our field trip to the institute's Year of Fashion. The other was Samuel Fosso—a glorious black and white self-portrait of the Nigerian photographer wearing the jazziest, whitest, most high-waisted sailor pants we've ever seen, all styled against the monochrome checker board that is his studio floor. On someone else this outfit might have been ridiculous. On Fosso it is ridiculously stylee. The image is part of "This is Not a Fashion Photograph," a collection of iconic pictures never intentionally shot as fashion photography but all with that elusive air of style about them. In amongst the Cindy Shermans, Larry Clarks and Gordon Parks, Fosso might just be the awesomest oddball in the bunch.
As the story goes, the photographer fled his homeland for Bangui, Central African Republic as a teenager after the Biafran war broke out in the '60s. The self-portraits he took started out as visual updates he'd send to his mother in Nigeria. The sets, backdrops and costumes though, only got bigger and better—Fosso would often style himself in crazy futurist sunglasses, pompous hats and regal animal skins, adopting outrageous alter-egos and creating one photo series with t-shirts plastered with the faces of the presidents of the Central African Republic. The regular folks who sat for wedding photos and passport pictures at his studio had no idea of these elaborate goings on, and it wasn't until the '90s when a French talent scout came across his work that Fosso finally found a public and international audience.
These pictures of Fosso are from a fashion story commissioned by our creative director Phil Bicker who was with Vogue International at the time. As Phil tells it, several bags of swanky designer clothes were shipped to the photographer for him to play with, and if you look closely there is actually one bag that Fosso didn't open and ended up using as a prop instead (we suspect he didn't notice that there were more clothes inside). The project trumps the average conventions of fashion photography without breaking the rules entirely, and what you end up with is a completely fresh take on men's style played out in Fosso's kooky wonderland.
There is a new solo exhibit of Fosso's work currently on show at the Jean Marc Patras gallery in Paris called "African Spirits, " where he takes on the persona of several black cultural icons throughout history, Angela Davis, Miles Davis, Haile Selassie, Lumumba and Muhammad Ali, to name a few. With full makeup production and hi-tech studio equipment the results are undoubtedly highly meticulous and superbly slick which, in a weird way, is actually a little sad. The magic of Fosso's work—at least in our minds—will always be in his secret world of DIY backdrops, hodge-podge found objects and random dusty props that live in a little photo studio out in Central Africa somewhere.