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The father of black and white photography in Madagascar

The sublime stillness of the mountains, the dense foliage of the rainforest, the poignant slopes of the hills, the windblown palms, the faces filled with ancient stories, all are beautifully captured in Ramily’s black and white photography, “the father of contemporary black and white photography‘ in Madagascar.

In Ramily’s photographs of Madagascar, known as the Big Red Island for the hue of the landyou can feel the vastness of the ocean, the swaying of tall grass with a lonely couple walking in the middle, the presence of Lake Anosy, the lake in the center of the capital of Antananarivo.

Sunset in Soavinandriana, Madagascar

Sunset in Soavinandriana, Madagascar
Photo: Photo of Ramily via Hakanto Contemporary Museum

Born Emile Rakotondrazaka in 1939 but affectionately called Ramily or Dadaily, Ramily made portraits of landscapes and people of his country. In these photographs, he captured in time and memory the essence of Madagascar at a time between colonization and independence, using light and shadow to tell a story and convey emotion and movement.

Ramily’s photographs reveal a changing Madagascar, his work beginning while the country was still under French colonization and ending long after it became a republic. Ramily, who died in 2017, was at the height of its powers and popularity from the 1970s through the 1990s.

Portrait of a fisherman in Fenerive, Madagascar

Portrait of a fisherman in Fenerive, Madagascar
Photo: CONTEMPORARY HACANTO, Madagascar

It is this legacy that was recently celebrated at the Hakanto Contemporary Gallery in Tanjombato, Antananarivo, during a three-month exhibition of its photos, logs and tools.

Ramily’s early exposure to photography

Ramily began his photography journey as a young child when he joined the eldest son of his adoptive family to travel through rural villages taking ID photos for people. Son of Rakotozafy and eldest of 10 children from a modest background, Ramily was raised by a pastor known as Rasolonjatovo from the age of 10.

On these trips, the two used the night sky as a dark room and the car battery as a power source to develop the photos. At 17, Ramily then started working as an assistant photo lab technician at PHOTO FLEX, a photography studio in Analakely, Antananarivo’s bustling market. While working there for French photographer Mesli d’Arloze, he mastered his craftsmanship and technique by mixing chemicals to develop photos. In 1968, he opened his own laboratory in the district of Ankadifotsy in Antananarivo. Two years later, he opened his own studio in Itaosy, making him the first Malagasy photographer to own both his studio and his laboratory.

Self-portrait Ramily

Self-portrait Ramily
Photo: CONTEMPORARY HACANTO, Madagascar

Influencing the young generation of photographers in Madagascar

Sharing his knowledge and expertise and transmitting this passion for photography to younger generations was very important to Ramily. Workshops and conferences where he shared his craft were common. During his most prolific decades, Ramily made photographs in collaboration with local cultural centers, national business initiatives, government projects and art festivals. Traveling all over the country to take pictures, these are the pieces he is known for.

The greats of Malagasy photography who succeeded him including Stephen Jacob, Dany Be, Pierrot Men, Daddy Marotiana, Philippe Gaubert, Sylvain Ralaivaohita, all were inspired by him.

Coconut trees in Foulpointe, Madagascar

Coconut trees in Foulpointe, Madagascar
Photo: CONTEMPORARY HACANTO, Madagascar

Solar eclipse in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Solar eclipse in Antananarivo, Madagascar
Photo: CONTEMPORARY HACANTO, Madagascar

musicians playing

musicians playing
Photo: CONTEMPORARY HACANTO, Madagascar

Ramily was so influential on Malagasy photography that there is a “before-Ramily” and an “after-Ramily” in the history of photography here in Madagascar.

The subjects of Ramily’s photographs were intimate portraits of his family and himself; portraits of people he met on his travels across the country; and the vast landscapes of Madagascar.

Both artist and technician, he saw and captured the sights that moved him with his beloved Rolleiflex camera, then expertly measured and mixed the chemicals to develop the photos, perfecting his formulas and keeping notes. meticulous in his notebooks. His commitment was to this traditional manual style of photo taking, but he also kept abreast of the modernization of photographic tools, including digital, but he never abandoned his basic fundamental tools. He insisted on the superior quality produced by mixing and developing his own chemical formulas rather than using pre-made formulas.

Ramily was known as a poet photographer, he traveled with musicians, visual artists and a national theater troupe as they traveled the country performing and taking pictures of it all. He was a friend of artists and an artist himself.

Madagascar in a timepiece

Ramily carried an essence of the spirit of Antananarivo in his attitude, his mannerisms, his face. He sought to capture and photograph the land he loved, the land that claimed him. And his photographs conveyed the stillness and the movement, the beauty and the history of Madagascar. It’s fascinating how many of the places he photographed still look the same today as they did in his 1970s photographs, while others have changed dramatically.

The father of contemporary black and white photography has given Madagascar and the rest of the world a great treasure in these works of art: a time capsule of this unique country and its cultures in the important decades of its history. Thousands of words conveyed in a single photograph.

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