Coffee Rhetoric: Secret History of the Black Pinup: Drum Magazine and James Barnor

August 23, 2012

Secret History of the Black Pinup: Drum Magazine and James Barnor


This latest piece on the rare histories of Black pinup models [publications and photographers] led me in a different direction, so I put a story I’d been researching on a noted Black burlesque performer on the back-burner for now, to feature this one. 

My interest in the lives of vintage Black pinup models and the people curating their images has usually been relegated to the stories of people here in the United States. But Drum magazine was an essential part of African politics and growing trends, during a time when seeing a Black model in the 1960s was a rare occurrence in the U.K., just as it was here in the U.S.  Much in the same way John Moorehead had done for Jet magazine and other media platforms of the time, famed Ghanaian fashion photographer and photojournalist James Barnor also served as a pioneer in the world of fashion photography and photojournalism, within the realm of the Diaspora.


Drum is an influential anti-apartheid publication based in Johannesburg and has the distinction of being Africa’s first Black lifestyle publication; and is most notable for its early coverage of township life under apartheid during the 1950s and 1960s. The magazine was initially known as African Drum and was established in 1951 by Robert James Crisp- a former cricketer-turned-broadcaster and journalist and James R.A. Bailey- an Anglo-South African writer and ex-Royal Air force pilot who provided the financial backing for its publication before taking full-control.  Under Crisp’s editorship, African Drum reportedly featured paternalistic and tribal representations of Africans and readership essentially dropped.  After Crisp was replaced by British writer and Editor Anthony Sampson, the magazine experienced a large shift and began to place emphasis on the reality of Black urban township life. Drum’s resurgence thrived especially during the emergence of political mobilization of South Africans of color and the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. The magazine became a media platform for a new generation of Black journalists, writers, and photographers [most of who became famous in their own right] to project their voice and present Blacks and South Africa, in far more compelling light. The Accra born James Barnor, took a number of photographs to help chart an emerging Africa, for the newly re-established Drum.

Based in the U.K., Barnor presented editorials of trendy Africans from across the continent that had expatriated to or were born in Britain. With famous landmarks serving as the backdrop, Black models and subjects evoked the trends and spirit of life in 1960’s London… a narrative most commonly conveyed by the likes of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. James Garnor is to Ghana and photojournalism what Ousmane Sembène was to Senegal and African cinema. The 83-year-old living legend's compelling portraits of Africans living across the continent of Africa and abroad, continues to be celebrated today. Additionally, Drum continues to be one of South Africa’s bestselling magazines and deserves to go in the annals of the history of Black publications.