“When portrait photography started in West Africa – in Senegal and Mali and all the surrounding counties – it was commercial. These photographers had no idea that they were actually documenting their societies,” says Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop. “It was magic! They didn’t realise they had a historical database.”
Diop has a body of work that includes fashion, art and portrait photography. His recent collections of photographs have included highly staged portraits of up-and-coming talent in African urban centres. He has also taken a series of self-portraits, called "Project Diaspora", where he recreates famous historic artworks that feature African leaders.
In this interview, Diop talks about the photos he has taken of fellow Senegalese creatives, including Selly Raby Kane, who (along with Diop himself) spoke at Design Indaba Conference 2015 about her sci-fi inspired fashion creations. Diop reveals how much he enjoys collaborative work, but admits that he always needs the space to add his own creativity to the pieces he creates.
“A portrait is supposed to be real, because you are showing someone,” says Diop. “But still, it is an interpretation. My portraits are very staged. It can take two weeks of preparation, from choosing the fabrics to the hairstyle, because I am also the stylist and sometimes I am the designer.”
Diop is using these highly-staged portraits to revive the old African tradition with a modern twist, adding his work to the ever-growing database of African faces and cultural change-makers.