During the social and cultural euphoria of a newly independent Niger in the 1960s, Philippe Koudjina worked as a photojournalist and later opened his own photo studio. For many years his snapshots of the youth scene in Niamey and his individual and family portraits provided Koudjina, known as "The Cheese" because of the verbal instruction he would give to his subjects, with a national reputation and a good living.
Today Koudjina has fallen on hard times. He is no longer able to take photos because he is slowly losing his sight to glaucoma. After being hit by a car, he must use crutches to get around, and he can't afford the medical care he requires. His cameras, photographic equipment and a disorganized collection of negatives gather dust in a decaying cupboard, while he begs on the street in order to survive.
PHOTO SOUVENIR features interviews with Koudjina, who recounts his photographic heyday, including the many celebrities he photographed, and explains his photographic techniques, while reminiscences by friends and acquaintances are complemented by samples of many of Koudjina's distinctive black-and-white photos.
Koudjina's desperate situation is contrasted with the fortunes of other African photographers such as Malick Sidibe and Seydou Keita, whose work from the same period, today celebrated in coffee-table books and European exhibitions, has brought them renewed attention and financial rewards.
While the film documents the effort by two French photo connoisseurs to organize an exhibition of Koudjina's work in Paris, PHOTO SOUVENIR reveals the fickle cultural process by which one-time "photo souvenirs" become "photographic art," and whether or not an artistic reputation is made in the Western world.
"PHOTO SOUVENIR has a visual power, it is poetry."—Skrien Filmmagazine
2007 Contact Toronto Photography Film Festival
Golden Calf for Best Documentary, 2006 Netherlands Film Festival
"A beautiful documentary about an African photographer who made beautiful pictures."—NRC Handelsblad
"The film almost seems fiction. There is tension until the end: will Koudjina succeed in the art world?"—Fries Dagblad