YOUTUBE: River Gambia – source-sea 1044km African Odyssey ©Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

We can’t promote this beautiful tiny West African country enough – after all the turmoil The Gambia has experienced. In particular, recently. Following, is from our extensive archive of travels and adventures, in and around the country:

We did it! We completed the River Gambia Expedition23rd November 2012 – 21st January 2013 – after almost 400km overland in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry into Senegal and then putting our two canoes into the water in Kedougou – we paddled (no engine!) over 700km of the River Gambia to its end, at the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul, The Gambia.

During our travels, we bounced and rattled down the mountains of the Fouta Djallon on the back of motorcycle taxis; hung out with gold miners in Senegal; drank attayah tea with village chiefs and elders; dodged very angry hippos on the River Gambia; and, as we paddled on the increasingly widening ocean-like river, we battled the wind and waves, as we neared the Atlantic Ocean and the end of our journey…’ see more on the River Gambia Expedition blog


Helen Jones-Florio & Jason Florio

Co-expedition leaders/Photographers


You may also be interested in ‘A Short Walk in the African Bush – 930km African odyssey‘. We walked around The Gambia, completely by foot – ‘bi tamala singo lah

'Silfando' Village chief, Herouna Tunkara and his horse ©Jason Florio
‘Silafando’ Village chief, Herouna Tunkara and his horse © Jason Florio



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Image © Jason Florio – Ex-President Yahya Jammeh leaving The Gambia to fly into exile in Guinea


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Image ©Helen Jones-Florio – Ex-President Yahya Jammeh leaving The Gambia to fly into exile in Guinea



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Image ©Jason Florio – Waiting for Jammeh – Press Gang, Yundum/Banjul Airport, The Gambia


Follow us on Instagram @floriotravels for daily photo updates

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Home: Donating the Gambian village chiefs exhibition to the National Centre for Arts & Culture

The handing over of the Gambian village chiefs - the Alkalo's - to Hassoum Ceesay, of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, The Gambia, West Africa
L-R: Jason Florio, Hassoum Ceesay (NCAC), Helen Jones-Florio (‘White Tip’ dog) – the handing over of the Gambian village chiefs – the Alkalo’s – to Hassoum Ceesay, of the National Centre for Arts and Culture, The Gambia, West Africa


What goes around: On our most recent trip down to The Gambia, West Africa, we were excited to be able to donate Jason Florio’s award-winning portraits of Gambian village chiefs and elders, ‘Silafando: a gift to you on behalf of my journey‘ to the National Centre for Arts & Culture, in The Gambia.

In April last year, we exhibited the portraits in The Gambia (with huge thanks to the organizers of the Athens Photo Festival, where Florio was invited to exhibit this series, in 2013, for shipping the prints all the way from Greece to West Africa!), which were taken during our 930km walk around one of Africa’s smallest mainland countries, in 2009.


Silafando exhibition, Gaya, The Gambia
Opening Night at Gaya Arts Café: Lamin, Abdou & Ebou (2nd & 3rd from left – who were our River Gambia Expedition team mates), Helen, Florio, Sarjo (Abdou’s daughter), and Samba Leigh (who was on the 930km walk) – Gaya Art Cafe exhibition opening


Packing the Prints
‘Lion’ dog oversees the packing of the prints, with Florio & Hassoum. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


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The packing is complete and approved (by ‘Lion’) . Image © Helen Jones-Florio



Handshake and thanks, Florio & Hassoum
Florio and Hassoum shake hands. The village chief exhibition on route to the National Centre for Arts & Culture, in Banjul, The Gambia. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


In the coming months, once we hear back from Hassoum, Baba Ceesay, and all at the NCAC, we’ll be posting more news as to where the portraits will eventually be housed and exhibited, in their permenant collection, in The Gambia next.

Helen Jones-Florio

“I am Amigoe Dieudonné – Artist Painter” West Africa

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VIMEO: Filmed & produced by Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio ©Jason Florio/Florio Studio. Click here to view


I’ve previously written here about Amigoe Dieudonné, a Togolese artist and friend that Florio and I met whilst basing out of our long-time haunt, The Gambia, West Africa, 2014-15. However, we wanted to bring attention back to him, as there is currently a GoFundMe page (kindly set up by Texas Huntress) to enable Amigoe, amongst other key things, to buy a badly-needed new wheelchair:


Amigoe needs money for food, for a new wheelchair, (his is over ten years old) to move to an apartment where he can properly access a bathroom instead of moving up and down stairs in his chair…. and finally for travel to Europe where he can properly exhibit and sell his beautiful paintings.’ Help African Painter, Amigoe!’ GoFundMe

The above short video portrait of Amigoe was shot in The Gambia. He has travelled for over fifteen years around West Africa in his wheelchair, which is by no means an easy feat – as Florio and I witnessed for ourselves, whilst following him around, filming, in Gambia – especially when he only has the use of one arm, having been paralyzed in his legs and left arm since he was a young boy. Amigoe’s determined travels saw him stopping along the way to create extensive bodies of work (he told us that in one place he lived outside, in a park for months on end, painting beneath the shade of a big tree) which he exhibits and sells wherever possible to be able to continue his odyssey.

We first met Amigoe at the opening night of our Photos Tell Stories – ‘The Gambia by Gambians‘ – photography exhibition, at the Alliance Française in Banjul. He asked us if we would shoot the short bio, to enable him to approach potential clients and galleries for exhibitions.


Amigoe at work in his house in The Gambia, with Jason Florio © Helen Jones-Florio


Last year, true to his independent and ever-inquisitive nature of the past fifteen years, Amigoe decided to make the arduous overland journey to Bamako, Mali, to see if he could expand his artistic career. He is now back in his homeland of Togo, where he returned to for the first time in many, many years to apply for a new passport – ever hopeful to fulfill his dream of being invited to Europe or the US to exhibit his work.


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Amigoe working on a new painting for an exhibition in The Gambia  ©Helen Jones-Florio
Florio, Amigoe, and fellow artists, at his former home in Cape Point, The Gambia © Helen Jones-Florio
Amigoe surrounded by his paintings, preparing for a forthcoming exhibition at the Alliance Francaise, in Banjul, The Gambia ©Jason Florio


Please check out the GoFundMe page. As always, we wish Amigoe – the artist painter – all success in his continuing odyssey.


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Florio and Helen – a salon print sale, at home in NYC © Stefan Falke

Looking back: Gambian photography students learn the art of portraiture with Jason Florio

I just had a conversation with one of my sisters, who told me that my young nephew is about to study photography at school, and that his first powerpoint was going to be about my co-instigator in all things photography (from our expeditionsphotography workshops), Jason Florio.  Looking back, for links on here that might be of interest to my nephew, took me to the ‘Photos Tell Stories: teaching photography – a visual language (P.T.S.s) workshop posts; all about when we held a number of photography workshops, around The Gambia, West Africa (thanks to a grant from the US Embassy, Banjul), with young Gambian students.

We are still so immensely honored to have had the opportunity to hold the workshops, and particularly proud of the level of work our young students produced – despite 99% of them having never even used a camera.

I just wanted to re-share this – especially for my nephew, Harry. Maybe one day, he’ll be the one teaching photography workshops somewhere in West Africa.


Helen Jones-Florio

2014: ‘Photos Tell Stories‘ photography workshop #1: The Kombos region, The Republic of The Gambia, West Africa – students were chosen from various senior secondary schools in the region

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L-R: Aisha, Muhammed N, PTS’s producer, Helen Jones-Florio, Haryat, Ya Ida, MMuhammed S, Kadji, Omar, Lucia, Catherine, Florence © Jason Florio

The students spent most the first day in the classroom with Jason Florio,  P.T.S.’s photographer and tutor,  where he covered the following topics: a brief history of photography; what is a photograph; portraiture; environmental portraiture; reportage; landscape photography (including showing the students images from all of our contributing photographers); guides and techniques; what makes a good photograph; rules of photography (rule of thirds, leading lines, etc.); lighting; editing. Lastly, how the students could share their world through photography.

We then went on to familiarize the students with the digital cameras (thank you to FujiFilm USA for their support):

Image © Jason Florio

The students practice how to capture movement:

Image © Helen Jones-Florio

Following is a selection of work from the  students – on the second day of the workshop – taken during their portraiture class:

Image © Florence Ampong
Image © Aisha P. Njie
Image © Gerald Soweh
Image © Muhanned Njie
Image © Ya Ida Drammeh
Image © Omar Dampha
Image © Muhammed Njie
Image © Muhammed Sinera
Image © Kadjiatou Jawara
Image © Catherine Mahoney
Image © Jason Florio
Image © Omar Dpampha
Image © Gerald Soweh
Image © Lucia Mendy
Image © Ya Ida Drammeh
Image © Aisha P.Njie
Image © Gerald Soweh
Image © Catherine Mahoney
Image © Florence Ampong
Image © Muhammed Sinera
Image @ Kadjotou Jawara

The students with Jason Florio – image © P.T.S.’s workshop producer Helen Jones-Florio

Image © Helen Jones-Florio

To check out our ‘behind-the-scenes‘ album, please visit the ‘Photos Tell Stories’ FB page – where you can see the students and Jason Florio at work, during all the photography workshops.

‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Jason Florio with the Kombos photography workshop students

Next up, we’ll be sharing the students images from ‘HOME’.  After showing the students work from all our contributing photographers – Manjari Sharma; Amber Terranova; Amy Toensing; Sari Goodfriend; Ryan Heffernan; Ben Lowy; Stefan Falke; Oskar Landi; Thomas Donley; Brandon Remler; Wayne Lawrence;   Chris Bartlett; Robert Goldstein; Henry Jacobson; Heloise Bergman – their assignment was to go and photograph their interpretation of ‘HOME’ . The following day, they returned to the workshop with some very interesting and inspired images. More on that very soon…

Other posts you might be interested in: ‘Teaching the art of portrait photography

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Sonia Pierre -Executive Director of the human rights organization, the Movement for Dominico-Haitian Women (Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas, MUDHA) © Jason Florio

Thank you for stopping by

The Florios (Helen & Jason)

Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, Photoville, NY, 2013. Image © Chris Bartlett

in Partnership with US GAMBIA WORK SHOP -300dpi_ FLAT

Looking back: Jason Florio photographers the migrant gold miners in South East Senegal

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Jason Florio photographers the gold miners, Senegal, West Africa – Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Over the last month, Florio has been working onboard the Phoenix –  for MOAS (Migrant Offshore Rescue Station) boat – documenting the rescue of 1000’s of migrants, off the coast of Libya;  migrants coming, predominantly, from West Africa, East Africa, and Syria.

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Image © Jason Florio


Seeing the images of all those people – all of whom are so desperate as to risk their lives, and often those of their children too, as whole families are on wooden fishing  boats that are, nowhere near, made to take 400-500 people  – reminded me of when we were on our ‘River Gambia Expedition‘, over-grounding and then paddling, we followed the course of one of Africa’s last remaining, free-flowing, rivers; from its source in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea, through Senegal, and on to the mouth of the mighty river, in The Gambia, West Africa.

We came across many, many migrants, from all over West Africa – both economic, and those fleeing from regimes which threatened their very existence.  In the artisanal goldmines of South East Senegal, we met families, who had migrated either together, or the men settled first and then sent for their wives and children later

Like the boat migrants, they too were risking their lives, every single day, working in unregulated and extremely  dangerous conditions, climbing down man-made holes – dug out with pick axes – 15+ metres deep, in some cases; ones which often implode, causing fatalities and maiming.  All this, in the hope that they will be one of the very lucky ones, who will find a nugget of gold, to make their fortune, and to feed their family.

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Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Whole families live in and around the mines. All the mines we visited were understandably dusty, but this one in particular had an extremely fine, pink-hued, dust which got absolutely everywhere. Even our tents, situated by the river – over 2 miles away from the mine itself – were covered in a fine film of the pale pink, talc-like, dust. But, at least we could pack up our tents and leave the next day. Many of those people, whose lives revolve around the gold mines, are inhaling toxic fumes from the mercury – used to separate the gold from the rock dust. The mercury that isn’t inhaled, settles into the environment – i.e. the pink dust that coats everything and everybody, at this mine… ‘ Helen Jones-Florio – See more at: River Gambia Expedition

Most of the miners we spoke to had, after many months, and even 1-2 years, of treacherous, backbreaking work, had found not one solitary grain of gold. And, so, they have little choice but to pack up and migrate to the next place, wherever that may be. Some of those we met, I feel sure, will have gone the ‘back route’ – overland, to Libya, to try to get onto a boat to Europe, in pursuit of a ‘better life’.  Despite the dangers, involved in this tremendously risky journey, where many lives are lost on route or at sea,  it is still preferable to returning to a country that either cannot or simply will not support them.


Image © MOAS_EU/Jason Florio, 2015. All rights reserved.


Helen Jones-Florio

HJF © Jason Florio

If you would like to read more about our journey, along the River Gambia, please check out River Gambia Expedition and for more images, by Jason Florio, of the people we met along the way.

Friday Photo: Migrant workers in the gold mines of Senegal, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Migrant workers take a rest from gold mining in Senegal, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio – Senegal, West Africa


Taken whilst on the ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1044km source-sea African odyssey‘, 2012-13, from the source of the river in the Fouta Djallon Highlands of Guinea-Conakry, to the mouth of the river, at the Atlantic Ocean, The Gambia – co-lead by Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio

Check out Youtube footage: ‘River Gambia’ © Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio

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Instagram: Kankurang – traditional masquerade, The Gambia, West Africa


Image © Helen Jones-Florio Instagram/Floriotravels


Walking along the beach, near Brufut, on Sunday, Jason and I happened across a Mandinka initiation ‘Coming of Age‘ ceremony – a traditional rite of passage. Three young boys had been brought to the beach, to be ceremonially washed by older boys, former initiates, as part of the final stages of their circumcision process.

The Kankurang – whose identity is always a closely guarded secret – is an integral part of the ceremony. Surrounded by the former initiates, he struts  around the young boys, menacingly wielding two machetes, clashing them against each other, gesticulating, and often emitting a high pitched cry. All is part of teaching the young boys the rules of behaviour, the importance of tradition, cultural identity, and a sense of community, as they enter into manhood.

Despite the bombardment of urbanisation, these age-old traditional masquerade ceremonies remain widely practiced throughout Gambia – not just in rural areas but also in urban areas, particularly by young men. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for us to walk out of our compound gate, on the outskirts of urban Bakau, to see (and hear!) a group of young boys, clapping and singing, beating sticks on a cardboard boxes, as they follow in the wake of a kankurang – whilst keeping a respectful distance. Who knows when the mysterious, shrouded, one will turn around and run at them, clashing his machetes.

Photographer, Jason Florio, and I are currently working on documenting the masquerades. We’ll be posting more on these traditional practices again shortly.

Helen Jones-Florio

Traditional Masquerades, Gambia - Image © Jason Florio
Traditional Masquerades, Gambia – Image of HJF and the ‘Fairy’ Masquerade © Jason Florio

Bobbing along on the crest of a wave, whilst praying to the Gods of Undulation

Getting the Jinack Lodge pirogue ready to embark on the crossing to Banjul Port. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Sunday 12th October, 2014 – 9.30am, Jinack Island-Banjul, The Gambia

We clambered aboard what resembled a huge Canadian style canoe – which we were about to go way out into the Atlantic Ocean in, to our next destination, Banjul Port, as part of our walk along the Gambia coastline; “it is only perhaps 45 minutes“, our captain assures me, as he takes in my ashen pallor and white knuckles, as I grip the narrow wooden plank I’m sitting on, whilst trying to balance myself in the middle of the rocking boat. He hands out bright orange life jackets, which look suspiciously like the kind you get on an  airplane. It may only be a few miles, across to Banjul, but it’s still the bloody ocean, and, for someone who was born, and spent the first six years of her life, across the road from the North Sea, I have an irrational fear of wide open water. That, coupled with the fact that I nearly drowned in the Atlantic, whilst swimming, on one of my very early trips to The Gambia! However, that’s another story… .

Don’t get me wrong, I have a deep respect and fondness for the ocean and there are times when nothing is more satisfying  then sitting, looking out at an infinite, vast body of water, contemplating life, love, the universe… . I just don’t want to be bobbing around on what I class, in my mind, as the high seas, in relatively small, seemingly flimsy, wooden boat!

Pirogue crossing from Jinack Island, to main land Gambia
Leaving the tranquility of Jinack Island. Image © Jason Florio


Grinning and bearing it! Taken just before we rounded the tip of Jinack Island and into the Atlantic Ocean. Image © Jason Florio


“So, what happens if we get into trouble when out at sea?” – Jason Florio. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


We didn’t exactly get off to a great start either, as the motor died a couple of times, due to lack of fuel, before we even reached the tip of Jinack Island, which would take us into the Atlantic proper. The plan was to stop and get fuel from one the three small villages, situated at the tip of the island, and which are officially in Senegalese waters – the island being bisected by the Senegal border.

Jinack Island, the Gambia
One of the three villages on the Senegal section of Jinack Island. Image © Jason Florio


Jinack (or ‘Ginack’ – ‘in front of the water’), is an exquisite narrow spit of  land, the furthest point North of The Gambia, ‘self-policed’, we were told, by the local villagers, all related in one way or another. Which is why, apparently, the island is so ‘peaceful’ – everyone knows everyone, thereby making it difficult to get away with anything remotely nefarious.  On one side, the balong and mangroves,  and the other side, white sandy beaches and the wide open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

After picking up the fuel, knowing that we were about to head out to sea, leaving the gloriously calming waters of the balong behind, I hastily donned my life jacket, hoping it would make me feel somewhat secure. It didn’t. My shoulders, already stiff from the tension of gripping the plank I was sitting on, I keep my eyes dead ahead, on the horizon – hoping that it wasn’t just a myth – and that, in doing so, it would prevent me from the projectile disgorging of my recently ingested breakfast! I willed the shores of distant Banjul to come nearer. I comforted myself with the fact that It didn’t really look that far… did it? .

Heading out to sea. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Hang on… aren’t we going in the wrong direction?’, as the captain steered the pirogue out to sea – my words immediately carried away by the wind and, or, lost in the sound of the boat engine. Surely it would be quicker to head diagonally across, towards Banjul?! In my horizon view is the elderly steersman, standing up at the helm of the boat, in his bright orange life jacket, making a series of signals – pointing, or moving either arm up or down, whilst shaking his head, as if to say ‘no, keep straight ahead‘ – guiding the captain through the choppy waters. “There are many sandbanks, out here in the ocean“, Amadou, the manager from Jinack Lodge, tells me “see, where the water breaks?“. He didn’t need to expand on what would happen should we accidentally run aground on one.

Captain Florio at your service! Image © Helen Jones-Florio


We had, on our previous River Gambia Expedition, experienced getting lodged on a sand bank in the middle of the river. Fortunately, the tide was low and we had been able to get out and drag our relatively light, rubberized, canoes to deeper water. Something we most certainly wouldn’t be able to do, with this huge hulk of solid wood, in the middle of the ocean!

Pirogue crossing from Jinack Island, to main land Gambia
A passing pirogue. Image © Jason Florio


They make this crossing two or three times a week – sometimes, daily, in the high season, to pick up guests and supplies – instantly becomes my mantra; as I continue to stare straight ahead, whilst trying hard to distract myself by thinking of other, more enjoyable, persuit’s.  Meanwhile, the pirogue rears up and down,  undulating over the waves, freezing salt water splashing my face and soaking my clothes .  Hey, look on the bright side, I think, if we are tipped overboard, I could always swim back to New York!  So much for distracting myself.

Pirogues unloading at Banjul.
Arrival at Banjul Port. Image © Jason Florio


So, Amadou, in the worst case scenario, such as running out of fuel...” No! Jason voices exactly what my mind is trying hard not to focus on, as if by doing so, it would be somehow karmic once the words were out there in the universe. But, I do want, need, to know.  “We call for another boat” Amadou casually replies . “We can almost always get a phone signal out here“,  looking pointedly at me, he reassures. “Or, we sit and wait for another boat to pass by“. Fortunately, the waters are fished twice daily, so passing pirogues aren’t that few and far between, in the morning and late afternoon, at least. However, I’m not sure how long it would take for help to reach us if we were to be toppled overboard. Cellphones and (salt) water aren’t particularly well-matched.

Our trusty steersman. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Jason checks his phone credit, and battery charge, before dropping his cellphone into a waterproof bag (courtesy of Overboard, who supported the River Gambia journey), and attaching it to his belt with a carabiner. Ever the master of a contingency plan, is Mr Florio – thankfully.

There was a moment, midway into the crossing, when I realised I could perhaps relax somewhat, as the steersman – who I had been scrutinizing, just as closely as I did flight attendants (watching for any tiny muscle twitch, in their outwardly perfect composure, when  the plane suddenly hits a pocket of turbulence, which might indicate the need to grab the life jacket beneath my seat!), ceased gesticulating and proceeded to sprawl across the helm, before seemingly falling asleep!

Jason Florio arrival at Banjul from Jinack island by Pirogue
Back on solid ground, Banjul Port. Image © Helen Jones-Florio


Clearly, we reached Banjul without any high seas drama (aside from the one that was going on in my head during the entire crossing!), in just under and hour; which felt more like four to me, as I uncurled each stiff finger from the plank I’d been clenching.

That day, I conquered a fear. However, that’s not to say that I would be in any great hurry to do that particular journey again!

Helen Jones-Florio (with Jason Florio)


Yours truly – Walking the coastline The Gambia. Image © Jason Florio


Related post: Gambia Beachcombers