Shortly before I left for Morocco I went over to Mmofra HQ to look at, and hopefully photograph, the Willis Bell photo archive. Fate was having none of it, of course: the power cut out. But we carried a couple of prints out into the light, and I snapped these two on my phone.
The left-hand shot is certainly from Ghana, but neither I nor Amowi (Phillips, Mmofra board member) are sure whether the other is from the north of the country or from South Asia. Bell was born in Burma and travelled extensively throughout his life.
So in fact I can’t tell you much about either, and in a way that’s the point. Analysing and preserving the contents of the archive – which weighs in at an equally tantalising and terrifying 90,000 negatives – is an ongoing project that needs support.
With the help of Ira Gardner in the US, Mmofra has staged a few exhibitions and released an initial catalogue of saleable prints, which you can peruse, buy and order from online. But there’s a long way to go and some immensely valuable material to explore, covering everything from children’s games to major post-independence construction projects.
While away I was impressed by the historical perspective of Marrakesh’s Maison de la Photographie. It redoubled my enthusiasm to get involved in a Bell working group here in Accra. More on that soon, I hope.