80,000 Photographic prints (b&w, 25 x 20 cm. or smaller.)
Congo (Democratic Republic)
Central African Republic
This collection is comprised of photographic and manuscript materials, primarily created by Eliot Elisofon to document his travels and work. The images portray many aspects of African life and culture including agriculture, wildlife, archaeology, architecture, art and artisans, children, cityscapes and landscapes, leaders, markets, medicine, recreation, ritual and celebration, and transportation. The manuscript materials include correspondence, essays, clippings, puobligations, notes, research, and itineraries.
Scope and Contents:
This collection is comprised of circa 14,000 negatives, 30, 0000 slides, 8,000 photographic prints, and 14 boxes of manuscript materials that date from circa 1945-1978.
The photographs document Eliot Elisofon's travels and work in Africa. The images portray many aspects of African life and culture including agriculture, wildlife, archaeology, architecture, art and artisans, children, cityscapes and landscapes, leaders, markets, medicine, recreation, ritual and celebration, and transportation. Artisans shown include an Asante weaver making kente cloth in Ghana; a Dogon carver in Mali making a kanaga mask; an Ebrie goldsmith in Cote d'Ivoire; Hausa dyers in Kano, Nigeria; and Nupe beadmakers in Nigeria; as well as artists at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Kinshasa, Congo. Portraits of leaders include the Asante court at Kumase in Ghana; Ebrie chiefs and notables in Cote d'Ivoire; the timi (king) of Ede, a Yourba town, Nigeria; the emir of Katsina, Nigeria; and the Kuba king and his court in the Congo. There are informal portraits showing children of the Kuba royal court dancing, Fulbe women with gold earrings in Mali, Mangbetu women in the Congo, and Maasai elders in Kenya. Masked dances documented include a Dogon dama festival celebration in Mali, an Igbo festival in Nigeria, and Kuba and Pende masked dancers in the Congo. There are also images of Yoruba gelede (men's association) masks in Nigeria. Non-masked dancers shown include Dan professional acrobatic dancers in Cote d'Ivoire, Irigwe dancers in Nigeria, Mangbetu dancers in the Congo, Mbuti dancers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Wodaabe men dancing in Nigeria. Events shown include Hausa riders in chain mail during the Independence Day celebration in Katsina, Nigeria. Images of art in situ include ancestral altars in the King of Benin's palace in Nigeria; Dogon rock paintings in Mali; and Yoruba Shango shrine sculptures in the palace courtyard of timi (king) of Ede in Nigeria. Landscapes include views of mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. Animals shown include birds, buffalos, elephants and giraffes. Traditional architecture shown includes Asante shrine houses with raised wall decorations in Ghana, Dogon villages in Mali and mosques in Mopti.
The manuscript materials include correspondence, essays, clippings, puobligations, notes, research, and itineraries.
A photographer best known for his work in Life magazine. Elisofon worked as a free-lance magazine photographer from 1933 to 1937, as a staff photographer for Life from 1933 to 1937 and on photographic assignments for various magazines, including the Smithsonian magazine, from 1942 to 1945. Elisofon traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America documenting the peoples of these lands as well as their arts and environments. A founding member and curatorial associate of the private Museum of African Art, which in 1981 became the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), Elisofon bequeathed his collection of African photographs to the museum when he died in 1973. To honor Elisofon's contribution to the understanding of African art and culture, NMAfA named its archives after him.
Use of original records requires an appointment. Contact Archives staff for more details.
Permission to reproduce images from the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives must be obtained in advance. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.