Cameroonian-born Nigerian photographer Samuel Fosso has won the 2023 Deutsche Börse Foundation Photography prize for his self-titled retrospective exhibition at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, tracing nearly five decades of his career. Fosso was presented with the prestigious £30,000 ($37,000) award at a ceremony at the Photographers Gallery in London on May 11. The remaining shortlisted artists—Bieke Depoorter, Arthur Jafa, and Frida Orupabo—each received £5,000.
Born in Kumba, Cameroon, in 1962, Fosso was raised in Nigeria, which he fled in 1972 as the Biafran War raged. Taken in by an uncle in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, Fosso in 1975, at the age of thirteen, opened his Studio Photo Nationale. In addition to producing commercial work, he began a series of performative self-portraits, which he would continue to make throughout his career, and which would eventually earn him a reputation as “the Man of a Thousand Faces. Among the guises he adopted for these works were those of Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, and Haile Selassi, as well as those of various social archetypes. “I started taking self-portraits simply to use up spare film; people wanted their photographs the next day, even if the roll wasn’t finished, and I didn’t like waste. The idea was to send some pictures to my mother in Nigeria, to show her I was all right,” he told The Guardian in 2011.
These works, while vividly demonstrating the role of photography in the construction of myths, served Fosso personally as well. “Making pictures of myself later in life was a way for me to take back what I had been lacking as a child, to take back my reflection,” he has said.
“We are delighted to announce Samuel Fosso as the winner of this year’s prize,” said Photogtaphers’ Gallery director and jury chair Shoair Mavlian. “His sustained exploration of self-portraiture uses a traditional, studio-based approach steeped in history, while at the same time his work remains relevant and addresses contemporary political issues of today with humor and authenticity. His work has created an extraordinary platform for Black voices and artists throughout his career.”
An exhibition of the work of all four photographers is on view at the Photographers’ Gallery through June 11; the show will travel to the Muzeum Fotografi w Krakowie, Krakow, where it will run from June 30 to September 17.