In 1955, Sidibé undertook an apprenticeship at Gérard Guillat-Guignard's Photo Service Boutique, also known as Gégé la pellicule. In 1956 he bought his first camera, a Brownie Flash, and in 1957 became a full-time photographer, opening his own studio (Studio Malick) in Bamako in 1958. He specialized in documentary photography, focusing particularly on the youth culture of the Malian capital. Sidibé took photographs at sport events, the beach, nightclubs, concerts, and even tagged along while the young men seduced girls. He increasingly became noted for his black-and-white studies of popular culture in the 1960s in Bamako. Musicians like Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré came to international attention in the 1990s, at almost the same moment as Malian photography was being recognized. One of the best known of Sidibé's works from that time is Nuit de Noel, Happy Club (Christmas Eve, Happy Club) (1963), in which a smiling couple — the man in a suit, the woman in a Western party dress, but barefoot.
In the 1970s, Sidibé turned towards the making of studio portraits. His background in drawing became useful in a way that he was able to position people so they still appeared alive in photos rather than mummie like. People enjoyed the studio, it was different than others and had electricity which was a luxury at the time. Sidibé was able to increase his reputation through the first meetings on African photography in Mali in 1994.
In 2007, Sidibé became the first African and the first photographer to be awarded the Golden Lion Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. Robert Storr, the show’s artistic director, said, “No African artist has done more to enhance photography’s stature in the region, contribute to its history, enrich its image archive or increase our awareness of the textures and transformations of African culture in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st than Malick Sidibé.” In 2008, Sidibé was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement.
African Photographer Malick Sidibé chronicled the exuberant life of the young people in Mali in the 1950s, 60s and 70s — we have some wonderful photos and a remarkable interview.