Saturday, November 29, 2008

Malick Sidibe: Fondation Zinsou catalog

I have written before about Malick Sidibe and his now famous studio in Mali and his documentation of the youthful nightlife of Bamako. Sidibe has recently been a subject of a major exhibition in Cotonou, BĂ©nin at the Fondation Zinsou and they have published a great book of his work that I highly recommend.

Titled simply Malick Sidibe, it is a 190+ page hardcover catalog that covers most all of his known subjects such as the portraits along the Niger River, Feast days and ceremonies, portraits on motorbikes, boxers, the various studio portraits, musicians, DJ nightclubs, fashion and an interesting series of people photographed from behind called Morning Back View.

This catalog has very interesting production values unlike most. The rich black cover boards feature silver debossed foil stamping and a reproduction tipped in. The inner pages are coated with a very high glossy varnish over the entire page except for a quarter inch margin at the very page edges. The reproductions are in duotone and look good under the heavy varnish. At two points in the book, small booklets of photographs on thin matte paper are sewn between signatures. These are little books within the larger book that are a pleasant surprising break from the flow of the rest of the sections. Also the designer has images in the studio portraits sections flow off the page and continuing on the verso like a filmstrip.

What I am drawn to since I mostly know Sidibe's work is the design of this book. It is unexpected and I do not think undeserved or over-designed. Its handsome presentation invites me to sit longer with work that in other books I passed by in haste.

There are three downsides I can find. One is that the varnish is so glossy that it sticks the pages together and they need to be pulled apart as if stuck by electrostatic. The noise of the whole ordeal is a bit disconcerting and even after they are separated, they tend to become stuck again after the book is closed for a while. The second is that with the smaller booklets sewn in between signatures I have seen several copies where the bind separates at those spots causing the signatures to loosen. It is a book you'll want to be careful with handling. The third is that the essays needed better proof-reading as there are typos in the English translations that are surprisingly easy to spot.

If you do not have a book on Sidibe then search out a copy of this one. Even with the few flaws, it is one of my favorites discoveries that I brought back from Paris.


Anonymous said...

Jeff, do you have their email address? The website seems to have been desabled... Thank you

Anonymous said...


I noticed that as well. I did view the site just before I posted this review and then it became "disabled." I thought it would be a temporary thing but who knows...

If you are interested in the book it can be found via and through FNAC in Paris.

Anonymous said...

I do think it looks over designed & don't see the point of images going off the edge of the page. Suspect it might be a designer trying too hard. I'm a fan of sticking a photo in the middle of the page & having some white space around it.
Michael W

Anonymous said...

Mike W.

The images going off the edges of the frame isn't cropping or clipping the photos in is similar to the way the Jean Gaumy Men at Sea book was designed where you see a bit of the next photo peeking in at the edge of the page and then when you turn the page, that photo is in the center and the edges of the previous and next are peeking in. get it? It gives the impression, like a strip of film, the connection between photos.

If it ain't your thing that's cool. I like it lots though. Sometimes you need a break from the middle centered photo surrounded by white... Or maybe you don't.

Anonymous said...

I believe Cuny Janssen's book 'There is something in the Air in Prince Albert' has a similar lay-out. At the page edges you can also see a bit of the photo on the following page.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, thanks for the explanation. That sounds better than what I was thinking.

Here's my thing - I teach photography & I still use film slides that I make myself to use in slide shows for the students. I photograph books on a copystand to make the slides.

The easiest images to document are those that have plenty of space around them in a hardcover book that sits flat. Most difficult are paperbacks & images with narrow white margins. Full bleed & across the gutter images are near enough to impossible. After doing this for years it has now become a prejudice of mine. Whenever I'm looking at a new photo book I'm assessing it in terms of copystanding as well as all the other considerations. So a book like Malick Sibide looks impossible, which is a shame as I love his work & it would go well with the slides I made of photos by Seydou Keita.
Michael W

Anonymous said...


The problem I am finding with this book is that the varnish continues to stick the pages together even after it is opened. I also have a growing fear that the book WILL fall apart easily. It's a shame.

It would drive you and your copystand crazy for sure unless you busted the spine.