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December 31, 2016

Rarely Seen Photographs of Kings and Commoners from 20th-Century Nigeria

Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge (1911-1994) was one of Nigeria's première photographers and the first indigenous photographer of the Royal Court of Benin. His photographic collection consists of over 2,000 glass plate negatives and large format film negatives, over 100 hand-tinted and black-and-white prints and photographic albums.

As the Royal photographer to the Oba of Benin, Akenzua II (1933-1978), Alonge documented the pageantry, ritual and regalia of the Obas, their wives and retainers for over a half-century, including the coronation of the king and the Queen Mother, Iyoba.

In 1942, Alonge established the Ideal Photography Studio in Benin City and documented colonial society, the establishment of churches and businesses, and the formation of new civic organizations and social groups in the 1930s and 1940s. As a commercial photographer, Alonge photographed individual and group portraits, preserving a visual record of the everyday lives and peoples of Benin City. Alonge's studio portraits illustrate how the local residents of Benin City presented themselves to the camera and engaged with the practice of photography during the early to mid-twentieth century.

Self-portrait with painted studio backdrop, 1942.

Oba Akenzua II greets Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip (not shown) on a Royal visit to Benin City. On the left is Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, first Premier of the Western Region, 1952-1959. On the right is Sir John Rankine, Governor, Western Region, Nigeria, 1954-1960.

Stella Osarhiere Gbinigie (age 16), 1950.

Portrait of Chief Francis Edo Osagie, 1960.

“Daughter of Oba Eweka II, wearing commemorative cloth from coronation of King George VI, May 1937.

Madame Ogiugo, 1960.

Dame Merry Oritsetimeyin Ehanire née Cardigan, 1940.

Prize winner, 1937.

Self-portrait, seated outside wearing formal attire and spats, 1942.

Visit of the Earl of Plymouth [right] to the Oba of Benin, Oba Akenzua II, Benin kingdom, Nigeria. Oba Akenzua II holds the coral regalia of Oba Ovonramwen, returned by the British in 1938. Sir John Macpherson, Governor-General of Nigeria, stands on the left, 1935.

Wedding portrait, 1937.

Commemorative cloth of Iyoba, Queen Mother of Benin (photograph by Solomon Osagie Alonge, 1981)

(Images: Solomon Osagie Alonge/Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, via Hyperallergic)


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