Rare portraits reveal Nigeria’s young and fashionable elite on the rise in the 20th century.


Throughout the 20th century, a Nigerian named Solomon Osagie Alonge worked as the first official photographer for the Royal Court of Benin, eventually earning the title of “Chief.” Much of Alonge’s catalogue of images centers on the reign and practices of two Obas over the course of Benin City’s history: Oba Akenzua II (1933–78) and Oba Erediauwa (1979–present). “Oba” is the Edo word meaning king or ruler.

But the world that Alonge (1911-1994) documented away from official ceremonies, rituals, and events was filled with stylish and free-thinking young men and women who had stepped in front of his lens at the local studio he built. It became “the place” for portraits.

Alonge created The Ideal Studio in 1942. Though it would not receive wide recognition until recently, Alonge’s work was an extensive and impressive visual record of Nigeria’s rising social and cultural class. He was a founding member of the…

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