The work of Beninese photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou is influenced by his experience as an assistant to his father Joseph Moise Agbodjelou, a famous studio photographer. With a mobile studio, they travelled together through Benin’s villages taking portrait photographs. As is traditional in West African photography, they asked people to sit in front of coloured cloths with different accessories.
Agbodjelou’s 2012 Untitled (Musclemen) series can be read both as a tribute to this time and as a mockery of the resulting images. Men pose in front of traditional coloured fabrics with pants of similar materials, holding plastic flowers in their hands — the obligatory props of studio photography. Their naked torsos are allusions to the clothing of the poor, rural population of the 1980s and, simultaneously, to the poses of contemporary international heroes. The exhibition and presentation of muscles as well as the mirrored sunglasses disrupt the historical nature of the scenes, which are completed by a traditional wooden stool. In his images, Agbodjelou creates an ironic memorial to West African portrait photography, while showing people trapped between staged modernity and tradition.