Bell Photo Archive

Dedication page of Sutherland/Bell book The Roadmakers

We are the owners and caretakers of the Bell Photograph Archive, a collection of some 90,000 black and white photographs of Ghana taken between the years 1958 – 1980 by Willis E. Bell.

Born to American parents in Burma, Bell went to Woodstock School in the Indian Himalaya where he developed an early interest in photography.  He was a graduate of Yale University and a world traveler, eventually settling in Ghana in the late 1950′s, where he set the standard for photography in portraiture, essays and advertising.  His interests included architecture and nature, and he retired from photography in the 1980′s to a working farm near Mankessim in the Central Region of Ghana.

Willis Bell was a mentor, adviser and contributor to our organization from its inception in the 1980s until he passed away in 1999.

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The Willis Bell Collection

May 2012 saw the publication of the first volume of The Willis Bell Collection, a catalogue of Bell’s historic photographs. The portfolio is available in print and digital formats, with proceeds going towards the foundation’s work.

The Willis Bell Collection - Volume 1

Order the catalogue

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How the Archive Benefits Children

The collection is a cornerstone of our work to model the recovery and preservation of material culture, making it accessible to as many children as possible.

  • It tells a visual, social and cultural story of modern Ghana.
  • It includes several hundred images celebrating childhood  and reinforcing the nurturing aspects of Ghanaian culture.
  • Exhibitions and reproductions of the Bell photographs focus public attention on children and raise funds for our work.
  • Periodic workshops build local capacity in restoring and digitizing photographs for archival purposes.

Portrait of a little boy on stairs, by Willis Bell

Achievements

Between 2005 and 2009, Mmofra Foundation has completed several projects featuring the Bell Photo Archive. These include:

  • Three workshops focused on inventory, stabilization, and restoration of a portion of the archive.
  • A catalog of the digitized photographs and an accompanying video documentary entitled The Roadmakers.
  • A 2007 wall calendar celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, launched at the National Museum in Accra.
  • The exhibition Ghana Through the Lens: A Photo Journey by Willis Bell at the Nubuke Foundation in 2009.

 

Four Girls Playing Outside - Willis Bell

Bell Photo Archive Partners

The Goethe-Institut, Accra

Embassy of the Republic of France, Accra

Embassy of the United States, Public Affairs Section, Accra

Nubuke Foundation, Accra

Spokane Falls Community College Photography Department, Spokane, USA

Special Appreciation

Alf Bremer, for his skill, ingenuity and dedication to the project.

Ira Gardner, for his unstinting hands-on support of the pilot project.

Richard Jonsson, for advising on the initial concept of the archive.

Eleonore Sylla, for her personal enthusiasm and the commitment of the Goethe-Institut.

Support the Archive

Much work remains to be done to make this remarkable collection accessible to the public. To keep the photographs in a relatively stable condition as we continue to restore and digitize the archive, we welcome many forms of support:

  • Funds
  • Materials – including archival and exhibition supplies, current hardware and software
  • Technical – including photo collection digitization, expertise in curating

To support the archive or explore opportunities for purchasing prints or using photographs from the archive for any purpose, contact info@mmofraghana.org

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