Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge was a self-taught photographer and one of the pioneers of Nigerian photography. He was the first official photographer for the royal court of Benin City, Nigeria. Alonge’s record of Nigerian royalty and social class is one of the most extensive and well-preserved collections from the period.
In 1925, at the age of 14, moved to Lagos and lived with his uncle to learn a profession. He soon became interested in photography and took on an apprenticeship to enhance his knowledge and skills.
For Alonge, photography proved to be a lucrative and respectable profession. In 1930, he moved back to Benin and began practicing photography from his house on Ugbague Street. He often traveled by bicycle outside Benin City taking yearly school portraits and gatherings at social clubs, sporting events, and government ceremonies.
Alonge was constantly adapting and innovating with new technologies and tools of the trade.
Alonge’s first camera was a Kodak Brownie box camera. It was simple to operate and affordable for the amateur photographer. Alonge later owned a more sophisticated Brownie built in the United Kingdom in 1947.
Alonge’s talent was recognized early on by the British, and he was asked to take photographs for the colonial administrators in the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1942, he created the Ideal Photo Studio in Benin City, where he quickly developed a reputation as a young, hard-working professional and an honest businessman. The studio soon became a popular location to have portraits taken. He experimented with a variety of techniques, and he began creating product advertisements, documenting construction projects, photographing parties, and covering business conferences for local companies.
He also photographed official ceremonies and historical events for the Nigerian government. In 1956, Alonge photographed Queen Elizabeth’s visit to meet Oba Akenzua II at the Benin airport.
Over 3,000 of Alonge’s photographs have been archived at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art.
Chief Solomon Osagie Alonge was born in Benin City, Nigeria in 1911 and died in 1994.