Photographer's Love Of Africa On Display At National Museum Of African Art (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Photographer's Love Of Africa On Display At National Museum Of African Art

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:00:03
We'll now turn from music to photography and the work of a man named Eliot Elisofon. He was a photographer who captured scenes of everyday life in Africa in the years after World War II. Those photos are now on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art. NPR's Susan Stamberg brings us the story.

MS. SUSAN STAMBERG

00:00:23
Before World War II, most Americans got their ideas about Africa from movies filmed on Hollywood soundstages.

MS. SUSAN STAMBERG

00:00:34
Tarzan the ape man, in the African jungles. After the war, thanks in no small part to the work of a Life Magazine photographer named Eliot Elisofon, a new light was shed on what had been viewed as the Dark Continent.

MS. AMY STAPLES

00:00:49
He redefined Africa in kind of a new and a complex way for American audiences. And he brought Africa into their living rooms, in Life Magazine.

STAMBERG

00:00:59
Curator Amy Staples. She created this exhibit from an archive of an exhibit of 60,000 prints and negatives Elisofon gave to the African Art Museum, which he helped to found. In the late 1940s, he converted an old ambulance into a studio and drove it from Capetown to Cairo.

STAPLES

00:01:18
He came in early. He was probably one of the first photographers to travel extensively in Africa after World War II.

STAMBERG

00:01:26
He came upon the Sudanese woman and got her on the cover of Life.

STAPLES

00:01:31
The heroic pose that she has, the beauty of her headdress, her confidence.

STAMBERG

00:01:38
Another woman wears a pendant with etchings of Sudanese village life.

STAPLES

00:01:43
These are made out of aluminum that came from a downed airplane.

STAMBERG

00:01:47
He bought the pendant. He liked showing how traditional mixed with modern in African design and crafts. Amy Staples says Eliot Elisofon got the Africa bug in 1942 as a combat photographer with General George Patton.

STAPLES

00:02:03
He photographed the first action pictures of World War II from Tunisia. That was an important trip for him. He actually became interested in Africa because of the '42 trip. And then he went back to Africa for Life to cover the visit of King George VI.

STAMBERG

00:02:22
Traveling with the British king in 1947, Elisofon encounters a king of the Congo and asks to take his picture for Life. The king shows up bedecked in full coronation regalia, an outfit passed down from father to son.

STAPLES

00:02:39
This costume is beautifully decked out with (unintelligible) shells and beads and brass wire. He's wearing medals, a headdress.

STAMBERG

00:02:48
A leopard skin, brass bracelets climb his legs.

STAPLES

00:02:52
People really hadn't seen that kind of detail and that kind of costume and that kind of beauty and dignity before.

STAMBERG

00:03:01
He holds a spear in one hand, a lance in the other. Oh, and on his head, a helmet with a handful of feathers stuck on top.

STAPLES

00:03:10
It took him three hours to get dressed for this photograph, and the costume itself weighs over 300 pounds.

STAMBERG

00:03:17
Once he was ready, the king made a request of Elisofon.

STAPLES

00:03:22
The king wanted a full-length mirror to be brought out so he could see how he looked. And Elisofon said, "The only other time that happened to me was with Ginger Rogers."

STAMBERG

00:03:32
Regal, dignified, but the caption Life put with the picture was disparaging.

STAPLES

00:03:38
"A fat black monarch."

STAMBERG

00:03:40
Elisofon hated that caption and spent much of his career as a photographer and filmmaker providing evidence to the contrary. Evidence for all America and the rest of the world to see.

STAPLES

00:03:53
I think what he did is he created a more intimate view of Africa. There was a humanity there. He was actually trying to educate audiences in the United States about how he perceived the real Africa to be.

STAMBERG

00:04:05
Today, tourists visit Africa regularly, in planes, not pokey prewar ships. Their exposure to what was only viewed as a remote, exotic, often fearful place was launched by the photographs Eliot Elisofon started taking there almost 70 years ago. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News, Washington.

WILSON

00:04:30
You can check out "Africa ReViewed: The Photographic Legacy of Eliot Elisofon" at the National Museum of African Art through March 2nd. And you can see some of Elisofon's work on our website, metroconnection.org.

WILSON

00:04:57
After the break, the perils of seeking a soulmate in the digital age.

MS. ERIKA ETTIN

00:05:01
A client once told me that online dating was like ordering a pizza. And at first I laughed at him, and then I thought about it for a second. I was like, that's kind of a sad truth, because online dating, unfortunately, does make people pickier than they might normally be.

WILSON

00:05:18
It's coming up next on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.