The photos illustrate the initiative’s goal to improve the lives of smallholder farmers without resorting to visual stereotypes. Instead, the aim of the project has been to show a new image of African living environments, seen through the eyes of Albert Watson. In addition to witnessing the cotton harvest, which was underway during his trip, Watson has also visited traditional markets and met a regional king to get a broader impression of the diversity of life in Benin and its people.

The completed photographs were exhibited from 14 September 2012 to 13 January* 2013 in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. The VISIONS FEAT. COTTON MADE IN AFRICA exhibition was part of a show that also included some of the photographer’s previously-unshown vintage and Polaroid works.

The curator Ingo Taubhorn noted: “Albert Watson is well-known as a fashion and celebrity photographer, but he is so much more: He toils uncompromisingly on an image and can just as easily turn his investigative gaze on to social realities. That is why I am looking forward to seeing what stories the smallholder farmers will tell through his pictures.”

*the exhibition was extended from 6 January to 13 January due to public demand.


The Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa exhibition was held from 14 September 2012 to 13 January 2013 in the House of Photography at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg. It was divided into two parts. At its heart was Albert Watson’s newly created photographs of Benin from December 2011. These depict smallholder farmers who work with Cotton made in Africa as well as their living environments in order to illustrate the social impacts of the initiative.
Alongside the photographic treasures from his trip round Benin, various rooms were dedicated to exhibiting a retrospective of Watson’s early work, mainly small-format vintage prints that he developed in the darkroom himself. Displayed in the context of the extraordinary architecture of the Haus der Photographie, these fashion and lifestyle images were presented in a new way alongside incisive, powerfully energetic landscape and portrait shots as well as still life photos from Morocco, Las Vegas and the world of the Benin cotton farmers.
The exhibition was curated by Ingo Taubhorn (from the House of Photography). The German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) has been an important sponsor of the project, in addition to two of Cotton made in Africa’s retail partners: OTTO and Tom Tailor.


Please include a copyright notice. Images may only be used in connection with reporting on the exhibition: “Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa” (14 September 2012 to 13 January 2013, Haus der Photographie, Deichtorhallen Hamburg). Images may not be cut or cropped.

In case of publication, please provide two sample copies to: Aid by Trade Foundation, Gurlittstraße 14, 20099 Hamburg

Pictures of the Exhibition – Deichtorhallen Albert Watson

Please include a copyright notice. Images may only be used in connection with reporting on the exhibition: “Albert Watson: Visions feat. Cotton made in Africa” (14 September 2012 to 13 January 2013, Haus der Photographie, Deichtorhallen Hamburg). Images may not be cut or cropped. In case of publication, please provide two sample copies to:

In case of publication, please provide two sample copies to: Aid by Trade Foundation, Gurlittstraße 14, 20099 Hamburg


Day 1

Arrival at Cotonou airport. With his white beard and Panama hat, Albert Watson looks more like a charismatic adventurer, on his arrival, than an experienced celebrity photographer. His gaze is inquisitive, open, alert. “I can’t believe I’m finally here”, he says—words that strike a chord with me.

Day 2

The soil of the savannah shines red; here and there we can see mud huts: time appears to have been standing still in the countryside north of the capital. Our convoy consists of three off-roaders. Albert Watson, in the front vehicle, calls on us to stop. What then follows is a pattern repeated scores of times each day: Albert Watson climbs out, followed by his three assistants. Lights, a tripod, and the Hasselblad camera are all unpacked. The master photographer has discovered something fascinating. Sometimes it’s a roadside stand, sometimes a woven fence, most of the time, however, it is people. At a marketplace in Abomey, we come across a group of dancers and musicians. Watson rolls out his reflector and asks, with the help of our translator, if he might photograph them. The polite sincerity of the stranger in the hat is convincing and they are all willing. “Just act as if I’m not there”, he shouts. As soon as he is finished, he shows them his pictures on a laptop. Many are bashful, almost ashamed, not used to seeing such a flood of pictures. It is difficult for us to imagine how this feels. Watson puts them at ease with the few words of French he knows: “C’est parfait”—it’s perfect.

Day 3

“They remind me of Moroccan nomads”, says Watson while looking at a group of Peuhl people who have gathered in Natitingou. The Peuhl were originally nomads, but many are now working as settled cotton farmers. Watson is enthralled by their peculiar charisma. Their faces are tattooed, they are brightly adorned, and they seem serious—almost unapproachable. The centrepiece of the celebration taking place is a ceremony including the ritual flogging of young Peuhl men causing blood to flow, apparently as a kind of test of courage. Watson mingles with the crowd, shooting away as if in a trance. Now and then you can see his white hat between the heads of the young men. In his improvised street studio, he takes a portrait of a young cotton farming woman. Her name is Aissatou Mahamadou. The picture is emblematic of Watson’s talented creations. Whether with Hollywood stars or farming maids, he appears to effortlessly capture everything he wants in his photo: self-assuredness, intimacy, naturalness.

Day 4

Four farmers are working in the midday heat on one of the few remaining unharvested cotton fields. Can Watson take a photograph? They agree. A woman scuttles across the dusty field, lowers a big barrel of water she had balanced on her head, leaves it for the men, and then goes on her way. Watson tries to lift the heavy container and only just manages. In the evening he asks himself, and us, without finding any satisfactory answer: “Why didn’t I photograph that woman?” Only to conclude: “It was a wonderful, fleeting moment.”

Day 5

The yams are cooking on a hotplate in the middle of the yard; the cotton farmer, who has been expecting us, introduces us to his two wives, his seven children, his brother, his brother’s family, his parents, and finally to his oxen—the animals he wants to be photographed with. The farmer has been working with Cotton made in Africa for some years now. “That’s how I can afford the animals and the cart for the harvest”, he explains. All seven children go to school and he plans on them becoming doctors and engineers. “You can see the pride in his face, pride in what he has achieved with your help”, says Watson, pleased.

Day 6

On the road, we see a motorbike coming towards us; amazingly it carries six people. Stop! Albert Watson climbs out of the van and talks the people into having their photo taken. They ride past his camera endlessly until he is finally satisfied with the shot. “That was nearly surreal”, he says, waving to them as they finally disappear in a cloud of smoke.

  • Originally published in Otto Group Times 2011/2012, reprinted by courtesy of the Otto Group

Albert Watson

Over his four decades as one of the world’s preeminent photographers, Watson has used his powerful, graphic style to create images for hundreds of magazines, such as Vogue, GQ and Rolling Stone, as well as for successful advertising campaigns for major corporations. All the while, Watson has spent much of his time working on personal projects, creating stunning images from his travels and interests, from Marrakech to Las Vegas. Much of this work, along with his well-known celebrity portraits and fashion photographs, has been featured in museums and gallery shows worldwide. The photo industry bible, Photo District News, named Albert as one of the 20 most influential photographers of all time. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1942, Watson studied graphic design in Dundee, followed by film studies at the London Royal College of Art in the late 1960s. After moving to the U.S. in 1970, he soon got the chance to earn his living doing photography. He has directed more than 200 TV commercials, shot hundreds of covers for fashion magazines (100 covers for Vogue alone) as well as movie posters (such as for “Kill Bill” and “The Da Vinci Code”).

Until the early 1990s, Watson was most well-known for his fashion photography and shots of supermodels such as Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, and for his campaigns for companies like Prada and Chanel. With his ground-breaking images of celebrities, including Alfred Hitchcock, Mick Jagger and Mike Tyson, Watson raised the bar for portrait photography and made himself an icon in the field. Besides several exhibitions at the world’s leading galleries and museums (including the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York and the National Portrait Gallery in London), Watson has also exhibited at numerous solo shows in Europe since 2004.
During the course of his career, he has published six books. These include the award-winning “Cyclops” (1994), “Maroc” (1998), and more recently “UFO: Unified Fashion Objectives” (2010) as well as “Strip Search” (2010). In December 2011, the Cotton made in Africa initiative and Deichtorhallen Hamburg sent Watson to Benin. Over two weeks, Watson used his camera to document the country and its people, taking photos of the cotton farmers who work with the initiative. These photos show the people behind the initiative and create a better understanding of the initiative’s work in Africa.
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