Malick Sidibé: the man behind one of the world's most influential photos

The late Malian photographer made it his mission to capture a world full of joy, writes Mark Hudson

03 December 2017 - 00:00 By Mark Hudson

"For me photography is all about youth," Malick Sidibé told me with a smile, when I visited him at his studio in Bamako, Mali, in 2003. "It's about [capturing] a happy world full of joy, not some kid crying on a street corner or a sick person."
"Malick had a real love and admiration for people," says the French fashion designer Agnès B, a long-standing collector of Sidibé's work. "He was looking for elegance and beauty - but always through people."Sidibé's photographs started appearing in the West in the early 1990s, picked up by the influential curator and impresario André Magnin, who has produced a string of books and exhibitions on Sidibé, including Mali Twist, the current blockbuster exhibition at Fondation Cartier in Paris.In 2007 Sidibé became the first photographer to win the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale, and some of his images are considered among the most romantic and evocative ever taken.
His Nuit de Noël - hailed by Time magazine as among the 50 most influential images of all time - is a prime example. "People love that photograph," says Agnès B, who has reproduced the image of a young couple dancing, their foreheads touching, on a range of T-shirts. "It has a graciousness and an elegance. You can look at those two young people forever."Sidibé made it his personal mission to record youth culture. Every weekend he would photograph youth groups with quirky names such as the Black Socks, the Sputniks and les Djentlemans, who vied with each other to wear the coolest outfits and listen to the hippest music.
If Sidibé was modest about his technical abilities - "It's just about getting the right distance and a flash and that's it!" - his images of youngsters twisting and jiving or cavorting on the banks of the Niger capture the rush of post-independence optimism.
"I loved the music and the atmosphere, but above all I loved the dancers," Sidibé said. "The moments when young people dance and play as though the stars belong to them - that's what I loved the most." - The Daily Telegraph
• To see more works from the 'Mali Twist' exhibition, visit

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