Cover of Ghana Through the Lens, a photo book featuring the work of Willis Bell

Photo Essay of Exhibition by Mmofra Foundation and the Goethe Institut Accra at Nubuke Foundation, Accra, April 21 – May 5 2009

ISBN 978-3-9810108-1-7
Propolis Verlag
Schliemannstrasse 44   10437 Berlin
Through his lens, Willis Bell documents his journey around Ghana in the early post-independence years.
Willis Eugene Bell (1924 – 1999) born an American in Burma was a world traveler who settled in Ghana in the 1950’s and stayed for the remainder of his life.
The photos selected for this exhibition project the idea that piece by piece each frame tells a story.  Each one carries the weight of its historical moment while speaking to the relevance of contemporary times so that the time past is to be looked at not as a fixed history, but as a living and dynamic force.

Contributors: K.B. Asante, Samuel Ntewuso, Irene Odotei, Henry Ofori, J.V.L. Phillips, Ralph Sutherland, Nii Adziri Wellington.

Exhibition concept and design: Abdulai Awudu, Abiko Banchi-Eghagha, Alf Bremer, Esi Sutherland-Addy.
Scans: Sophia Baisie, Jasper Defeamekpor
Photo post-production: Alf Bremer, Christof Janitschek
Catalog concept and design: Alf Bremer
Catalog cover: Christof Janitschek

Young Boy in Batakari - Willis Bell

Early Work

The Willis Bell Archive Project was driven by the initiative of our board member and international representative Amowi Sutherland Phillips, who also undertook the early assessment of the collection.
In 2001 a pilot restoration project was carried out in co-operation with Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane, USA under the direction of Amowi Phillips and Ira Gardner, head of the Photography department.  The result was an exhibition of photographs in both Spokane and Accra (2002)
The Goethe Institut Accra enabled us to secure the technical services of Alf Bremer and Gisele Harich-Hamburger.  Alf led our archival training workshops, coordinating research, restoration and digitization through 2009.

Restoring the Collection

The Bell Archive is today, like other collections from the 1960’s and earlier, in a critical state.Due to climatic conditions, photo collections in Ghana and other tropical countries need special efforts to avoid irretrievable damage and loss.
Workshop participants access, clean, scan and store photographs

Editing and preserving negatives in the Bell Archive workshops

Top left: Accessing the archive - opening one of the many boxes with Bell's photos. Top right: Gently removing dust and mold from a negative with Groom-Stick paper cleaner. Bottom left: Scanning with a Nikon multi-format film scanner. Bottom right: Archival storage in acid-free envelopes and heavy duty archival boxes.

Archive Workshops Team

Astra Amedume / Abdulai Awudu / John Budu Afful / Abiko Banchi Eghagha / Sophia Baisie / Alf Bremer / Jasper Dafeamekpor / Gisele Harich-Hamburger
Team members are affiliated with the following institutions:

  • University of Ghana
  • Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
  • National Film and Television Institute

2007 Commemorative Calendar

2007 Calendar featuring Willis Bell photosThe 2007 Bell Calendar is a result of French-German cultural cooperation with Mmofra Foundation on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence.  Eleanore Sylla was instrumental in securing the participation of the Goethe Institut Accra.
Depicting the country’s photographic heritage and history in the post-independence years, the 14-page calendar was developed from the outstanding photograph archives of Willis E. Bell, Some of the descriptive scenes captured on the calendar included “road to the future”, “new roads replace the old” and “building a new nation”.  Mr Pierre Jacquemot, the French Ambassador in Ghana, and Mr Peter Linder, the German Ambassador jointly launched the calendar.