Jean Depara

Introduction

Jean Depara

Born in 1928 in Kbokiolo (Angola).
1948: moves to Matadi.
1953: moves to Leopoldville (later Kinshasa).
1954: becomes official photographer of Franco, the future maestro of the Zairian rumba.
1954-1975: Depara photographs the atmosphere of bars, dance halls and clubs as well as athletes or gangs of young engineers and Bills.
1956: opens his photo studio Jean Whisky Depara at 54 Kato street.
1966: closes his studio to concentrate on his reporting.
1975-1989: employee and official photographer attached to the Parliament.
1989: retires and gives up photography.
1996: first publication in Revue Noire of his work.
Dies in 1997 in Kinshasa.

Settling in Kinshasa in 1951, Depara at first combined his photography with various small jobs such as repairing bicycles and cameras and dealing in scrap metal. In 1956 he sets up a studio under the name Jean Whisky Depara which closed down ten years later, in 1966. Day or night, from 1951 to 1975, Depara photographed the atmosphere of dancing-bars and clubs but also athletes and gangs of well outfit youths named sapeurs. The megalopolis Kinshasa was then the African city where the music was spreading across the continent and the world. Depara was the friend of musicians and especially Franco, the future maestro of Zairean rumba, who asked him in 1954 to be his appointed photographer. From roughly 1960-1990, artists such as Franco and his band TPOK Jazz, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Zaiko Langa Langa were the biggest musical acts in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In terms of musicianship, Franco's music is up there with the Beatles. From 1975 to 1989, in his fifties, Depara became the official photographer attached to the Parliament. In 1989 he gave up photography to devote himself to fishing and building pirogues. Depara died in 1997 in Kinshasa at the age of 69 years.

Jean Depara, of roughly the same age as the famous Malian photographers Seydou Keita and Malik Sidibe, is best known for his images which document the nightlife of the Congolese capital Kinshasa in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Depara himself was part of the youths who frequented the bars and nightclubs in search of fun and adventure. These are photographs full of joy and dynamic movements, often stolen from the dark with his flash camera. Probably less known are the portraits Depara took in his studio and in the streets of Kinshasa. Quieter and less chasing the very moment of a crazy night these portraits document the desire of ordinary women and men for a memento. Like his other images Depara’s portrait photographs bear testimony to his extraordinary professional skills and his aptitude to frame the personality of his clients.

Displayed on the pages below is a sample of 93 portrait photographs which are part of a much larger body of similar images.

The images were scanned from the original negatives and reworked with Photoshop in order to eliminate dust, scratches and eroded borders.