Spotlight on: Jonathan Adagogo Green

Posted on by Alice Bush.

Spotlight compiled by Eve Andreski, Documentation Assistant.

Topless man sat on a throne which reads 'Prince Archibong II'. He wears a crown and holds a sceptre.

To coincide with Black History Month, the British Empire and Commonwealth Collection (BECC) team wanted to focus on an important series of images within the archive. The Jones collection consists of photographs showing scenes in West Africa at the turn of the 20th Century. These include royal portraits, street scenes, landscapes, and images of industry.

Many of these bear the studio stamp of J.A. Green. J.A. Green was Jonathan Adagogo Green, the earliest known Nigerian studio photographer. Green trained in Sierra Leone before returning to Bonny and setting up a studio of his own.

Image 1: Portrait of Prince Archibong II by J.A. Green, c.1900 (ref: 2003/174/1/48)

Green worked for both West African and colonial clients. His photographic work shows that he was documenting two worlds. The first, his own as an Ibani Ijo born into a trading family. The second as the chief photographer for the British in the newly formed colony of Nigeria. It is likely he went by his initials, so that his ethnicity was not immediately apparent to British commissioners. This may hint at the challenges faced by a Black photographer at the time.

Crowd of people, some holding umbrellas, at a market.

Image 2: Market Scene by J. A. Green, c.1900 (ref: 2003/174/1/26)

Green was a skilled documentary photographer, but perhaps most arresting are his studio portraits. These capture the majesty of kings and chiefs. Some of the photographs in this collection are printed on postcards, demonstrating how images like these were distributed around the world. Green’s body of work shows the impact of colonialism, but there is a growing realisation that early photography like this was in turn impactful.

Railway tracks going off into the distance where it meets a bridge over the water.Image 3: Railway Bridge over the River Imo by J. A. Green, c.1900 (ref: 2003/174/1/32)

Jonathan Adagogo Green died young in the year 1905, at only 32 years of age. His photographic studio continued, managed by relatives until the 1990s. Whilst not much is known about Green’s personal life, he was extremely prolific during his career, and his high-profile clients attest to his success as a businessman.

Man with a moustache sat wearing a long, stripped gown, a dark top hat and leaning on a cane.

Image 4: Portrait of Chief New Calabar by J. A. Green, c.1900 (ref: 2003/174/1/29)

View the full catalogue online: Jones collection (

You can access these photographs in the searchroom of Bristol Archives. A recently published book has drawn new attention to this pioneering photographer, and this is also available in the Bristol Archives reference library (‘African Photographer J. A. Green’; ISBN: 0253028957).

Plan your visit: Plan your visit | Bristol Archives (

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