See Solomon Osagie Alonge’s Rare Photographs of Nigerian Royal Court

His work has largely remained unknown outside Africa.

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Solomon Osagie Alonge, Self-portrait with painted studio backdrop (1942), Silver gelatin print, with sepia tone (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, 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 Silver gelatin print and hand-colored (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Stella Osarhiere Gbinigie (age 16) (1950), Benin City, Nigeria, photograph and hand-colored print (Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, all images courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Portrait of Chief Francis Edo Osagie”(1960), Benin City, Silver gelatin print with hand-coloring (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Daughter of Oba Eweka II, wearing commemorative cloth from coronation of King George VI, May 1937Silver gelatin vintage (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Madame Ogiugo”(1960), Hand-colored photograph (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Dame Merry Oritsetimeyin Ehanire née Cardigan (1940), Benin City, Glass plate negative (Chief S.O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Prize winner(1937), Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Self-portrait, seated outside wearing formal attire and spats (1942), Benin City, Nigeria, Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, 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), Glass plate (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Wedding portrait(1937), Glass plate negative (Chief S. O. Alonge Collection, Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives)
Solomon Osagie Alonge, Commemorative cloth of Iyoba, Queen Mother of Benin (photograph by Solomon Osagie Alonge, 1981) (Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives, National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution)

Curating from its collection of 2,000 glass plate and large format film negatives, as well as 100 prints, the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art is exhibiting some of Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge’s rare photographs. Born in 1929, Alonge captured for over five decades life in the royal court in Nigeria.

The exhibition “Chief S.O Alonge: Photographer to the Royal Court of Benin, Nigeria” opened this September to coincide with the anniversary of Nigeria’s colonial unification in 1914. Artifacts from Benin and the Royal Court will be shown alongside Alonge’s photographs, cameras, and other equipment.

Beginning his career with a Kodak Brownie, the artist worked his way up to eventually opening his own studio in Benin City called  Ideal Photography studio. His photographs depict the Royal Court, its lavish ceremonies and its Kings. However, he also captured the Benin community, with many portraits of everyday people.

Amy Staples, the show’s curator and senior archivist, explains in a statement: “Through his portrait photography in the Ideal Photo Studio, Alonge provided local residents—many for the first time—with the opportunity to represent themselves to themselves as dignified African subjects.” He also captured the impact and legacy of colonialism in the country. Max Kutner writes in Smithsonian Magazine: “Though the British remained in the region until 1960 (Alonge photographed Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1956), Alonge helped usher in an era of Nigerians representing themselves and acting as keepers of their own history.”

Since his death in 1989, Alonge’s work has largely remained unknown outside Africa.

 


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