When Marc, Kevin and Heather Weaver, directors of Guinevere Antiques, first considered how they might mark their London emporium’s 55th anniversary, a photography exhibition was not top of their mind. But a chance invitation to visit their neighbour Mirella Ricciardi at her home set events in motion. “We had met Mirella many times before, but we had no inkling of her work,” says Heather Weaver. “When she unveiled her photographs to us, the hairs on my arm stood on end – they were staggeringly beautiful.”
Ricciardi, who was born and raised in Kenya, first set off to explore the continent with her camera in the 1950s. Insatiably curious, she took photographs instinctively, capturing the people, wildlife and landscapes she encountered as she travelled and, in so doing, created a fascinating record of the final years of east African tribal life. She went on to have a prolific photographic career encompassing fashion (she discovered the model Iman), film and reportage, but aside from a book of her early images, Vanishing Africa, published in 1971, there seemed to be no record of her work.
Then, in 2006, her daughter Amina Ricciardi came across a collection of photographs lying at the bottom of a chest at the family home in Naivasha, Kenya. It was Mirella Ricciardi’s entire archive. Spanning 64 years, it contained not only exquisitely intimate portraits from the Vanishing Africa series, such as Maasai Warrior Holding Rungu Wearing Headdress Fashioned from a Lion’s Mane; Adolescent Boy Sits in the Shade of his Camels; and Eunoto Ceremony Loita Hills, but her later work too, from the 1975 chromogenic photographic print Young Arab Girl Looked our Way to a haunting image of a Dinka shepherd, arms raised holding cow horns, taken in southern Sudan in 1982.
Lost & Found, as the title suggests, is a celebration of these extraordinary images (priced £12,000 to £14,000). For collectors, the exhibition represents a unique opportunity to buy previously unseen photographs, and for those new to her work it provides a wonderful introduction to one of the most engaging photographic records of the 20th century.