Personal Photographer to
Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia
Shemelis Desta was an official court photographer for Emperor Haile Selassi of Ethiopia.
From the early 1960’s until he was deposed, Shemelis Desta recorded the founding of the OAU, visits to the court by international heads of state, and also accompanied the Emperor on trips abroad.
During this time, he took photographs of state leaders, including a youthful Queen Elizabeth II, paying their respects
After he was overthrown by a Marxist coup, Shemelis Desta was retained by The Derg to continue to record the diplomatic activity of the Cold War, and the horror of the Red Terror.
He eventually managed to escape to the UK, bringing his hidden archive of negatives with him.
Rare footage of Shemelis Desta
The Organisation of African Unity was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with 32 signatory governments. It was disbanded on 9 July 2002 by its last chairperson, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and replaced by the African Union.
Shemelis Desta pictured here on the right, is holding his signature Rolleiflex medium format camera.
Against the political and historical events that defined the twentieth century, Shemelis Desta recorded the tumultuous history of Ethiopia. For the first time in a major exhibition the key figures and moments he captured are revealed.
From the early 60s until deposition, Desta was the former Emperor Haile Selassie’s official court photographer. During this time, he took photographs of state leaders, including a youthful Queen Elizabeth II, paying their respects.
Following the infamous 1974 military coup and subsequent deposition of the Emperor, Desta continued to record government activity under the rule of the military dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam. Desta captured the colourful pageantry of state military processions as well as a state visit from Fidel Castro.
Autograph ABP 2011
Autograph ABP is pleased to be an official partner for the first photography festival in Ethiopia, showing: From Emperor to Military Dictator: Shemelis Desta’s Ethiopian Archive. For more information please visit www.addisphotofest.com From Emperor to Military Dictator: Shemelis Desta’s Ethiopian Archive From the early 1960s Shemelis Desta (b.1937 Ethiopia) was official photographer to Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, until his desposition in 1974. While still in power, the Emperor played a major role in international affairs and Desta constantly travelled with him during mediations on political and religious affairs, including the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. — The main collective exhibition of the First edition of ADDIS FOTO FEST will focus on Ethiopia, showcasing different perspectives on different aspects of the country, both with photographers from Ethiopia and from abroad. A special tribute will be given to legendary photographer Shemelis Desta, who will come from London for the opening of the show with the support of the British Council.