Sanlé Sory – Volta Photo, 1965-1985

Ibrahima Sanlé Sory (b. 1943) started his photographic career in Bobo-Dioulasso in 1960, the year his country gained independence from France, then under the name République de Haute-Volta, now Burkina Faso. He opened his Volta Photo portrait studio, and working with his Rolleiflex twin lens medium format camera, Volta Photo soon became recognised as the finest studio in the city. 

Sory’s uniformly square black and white images possess a unique creative flair that epitomises Voltaic photography’s unsung golden age. His work examines the natural fusion between tradition and modernity. He documented the fast evolution of Bobo-Dioulasso, then Haute-Volta’s cultural and economic capital, portraying the city’s inhabitants with wit, energy and passion. His work conveys a youthful exuberance in the wake of the first decades of African independence.

Sory’s photographs were featured in the recent Auto Photo exhibition at Fondation Cartier, Paris, and the Art Institute of Chicago show Volta Photo: Starring Sanlé Sory and the People of Bobo-Dioulasso. This significant exhibition brought together over 100 vintage photographs, plus objects from the Volta Photo studio, including illustrated backdrops, studio lighting, cameras and props. It was the first exhibition of an African photographer’s work at a museum in the United States.

In addition to the AIoC and Fondation Cartier, Sanlé's work is also held by MoMA, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Frac Aquitaine, Fondation Zinsou, Tang Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art, North Carolina Museum of Art, RISD Museum and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

David Hill Gallery and Reel Art Press co-published Sory Sanlé – Volta Photo 1965-85, and Steidl published to Volta Photo to accompany the Art Institute of Chicago exhibition. Stanley / Barker published Peuple de la Nuit in 2019.