The Gambia – finding truth and reconciliation

TRRC billboard, depicting portraits from ‘Gambia – victims. and resisters’ Image ©Jason Florio, The Gambia, West Africa

The tiny West African republic, The Gambia, is a popular winter-sun holiday destination for Europeans. However, most tourists have little idea of the dark and shattered underbelly of ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’, as the Gambia is fondly called. From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled the Gambia as his fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition with brutality. His personal hit squad and National Intelligence Agency carried out tortures, assassinations, and acts of sexual violence with impunity – journalists were gunned down and disappeared, students shot in cold blood, and even his cousins were murdered on his order. 

Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of a man wearing a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara ©Jason Florio
A man wears a t-shirt with a photo of murdered newspaper editor and journalist, Dedyra Hydara ©Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

In October 2018 The Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) launched in The Gambia – a televised commission investigating the human rights violations under the 22-year dictatorial rule of President Yahya Jammeh. The TRRC, suspended over the past couple of months due to COVID19, will resume today, Monday 8th June 2020, hearing testimonies from the victims and survivors of Jammeh’s rule, along with those of the alleged perpetrators. It is a long, and extremely painful process for many, to finally have their voices heard, but also to see and hear the voices of those who are implicated in meting out shocking tortures, killings, and human rights abuses, and about what happened to their loved ones. 

‘Gambia – victims, and resisters’

#Portraits4PostiveChange

For over three years, we have been collaborating closely with the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations, and the TRRC; and have created permanent and mobile exhibitions of the portraits and testimonies. The exhibitions have now become part of Victims Centre and TRRC outreach work around the country, to bring the stories of victims to the people, to create dialogue and discussion around human rights and justice in this fledgling democracy – in hopes of opening eyes and winning hearts and minds. And, we will continue making the portraits and filming testimonies once flights to Gambia resume after the lockdown.

  • Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Bintu Tunkara, daughter of murdered Gambian Lamin Tunkara, holding the only photo she has of him on her mothers cell phone ©Jason Florio
  • Gambia - victims and resisters: portrait of Ya Mammie Ceesay whose son was murdered by the former regime of Yahya Jammeh ©Jason Florio
  • Stories Behind Doors, The Gambia, West Africa - the doorway to Mr. Chune's home. His 14 year old son was shot dead by Gambia security forces April 10th, 2000 © Helen Jones-Florio
  • Bintu was detained and raped by 3 masked security officers - Gambia victims and resisters portraits ©Jason Florio
  • Gambia Victims and Resisters of a Regime – ©Jason Florio, the Gambia

#StoriesBehindDoors

Current Location: June 2020 – easing lockdown in the UK

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Jason Florio making #Portraits4PositiveChange, the Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio.
Jason Florio making #Portraits4PositiveChange, the Gambia ©Helen Jones-Florio.

In isolation between a ‘Rock and a Hot Place’

In isolation between a ‘Rock and a Hot Place‘ – we arrived in the UK just over a month ago, for a short break from our assignments in The Gambia, West Africa. We had intended to head to the small island of Malta, which we have called our other home for the past five years. After this, we planned to return to The Gambia to continue our projects.

Malta: incoming flights suspended – March 21st, 2020

However, the days following our return to the UK Malta closed its airport, soon followed by The Gambia. So, we find ourselves grounded, literally, here in the UK at my mother’s house – waiting for the skies to open again. In the meantime, I watch her English country garden slowly break bud and bloom, and Helen as the light finds her in our roost above the barn – whilst, all the time wildly conscious of the struggle around us, the fight for life… Jason Florio

Our niece, who is isolating with her family, keeping her social distance, but echoing her uncle with her camera ©Jason Florio April 2020

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Jason’s Mum, who is self-isolating, wearing a mask outside and keeping her social distance (her dog. Space, is in the background) ©Jason Florio April 2020

In isolation between a ‘Rock and a Hot Place’

Help is at hand – volunteering to shop for residents who are self-isolating. Image ©Jason Florio


HJF – on one of our daily exercise walks ©Jason Florio April 2020

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In isolation between a ‘Rock and a Hot Place‘ – photographer, Jason Florio, with his mum’s dog, ‘Space’. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio, April 2020

Location: April 2020 – Currently, physical-distancing in the UK

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(self) Isolation… images ©Jason Florio

(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone woman sits in a bed looking at her phone by a window overlooking the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image © Jason Florio, March 2020, UK
(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone woman stretches in the early morning, looking out the window at the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation ©Jason Florio, March 2020, UK

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(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone beach hut, on the cliffside, overlooking the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – Image © Jason Florio, March 2020, UK

But if you could just see the beauty,

These things I could never describe,

These pleasures a wayward distraction,

This is my one lucky prize.

Isolation, isolation, isolation, isolation, isolation

Words: Curtis-Hooky-Sumner-Morris / Joy Division

(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone woman looks out at the ocean from a cliff top, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation ©Jason Florio, March 2020, UK

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(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone wild pony eats grass in a field, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image ©Jason Florio, March 2020, UK
(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone wild pony eats grass in a field, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image ©Jason Florio, March 2020, UK

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(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a lone stone-shaped heart, on a clifftop, overlooking the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image © Jason Florio. March 2020, UK
(self) Isolation - image © Jason Florio - a vase of flowers on the window ledge in an ancient country church, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image © Jason Florio, March 2020, UK
Isolation - images ©Jason Florio - an old graveyard, overlooking the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image © Jason Florio, March 2020, UK
Isolation - images ©Jason Florio - man sits on the the top deck of a bus, overlooking the sea, Cornwall, UK
(self) Isolation – image © Jason Florio, March 2020, UK

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Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, The Gambia – with Jason Florio/Helen Jones-Florio

Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, The Gambia – field work, with journalists, Soulayman Ceesay and Louise ‘Tina’ Alsan, photographing returnee, Buba. Image © Jason Florio

Our Photos Tell Stories Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, in The Gambia, began last week with a group of young Gambian journalists, selected by the International Organisation for Migration. Our first day, spent in the classroom, included an introduction to photojournalism, and technical skills, with photographer and filmmaker, Jason Florio. He also shared his work of over 18 months aboard a rescue ship – for the NGO, MOAS – where he documented multiple rescues, in the Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. IOM’s Communication’s Officer, Miko Alazaz, also presented to the class IOM’s ethics of interviewing and photographing returnees of ‘the backway‘.

@Jason Florio/MOAS.EU
Eritrean Yosef Goitom AKA King Josee helps caryy a baby to safety on the RHiB. Rescue of 369 migrants. This was the first rescue of the 2015 MOAS Mission. Image ©Jason Florio ‘Destination Europe’ award-winning images
Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM. Day 1 – all set up and ready to go. Image © Helen Jones-Florio

“Our workshop with photographers, and filmmakers, Jason Florio & Helen Jones-Florio, this week allowed photojournalists to learn both technical skills and migration dynamics in The Gambia—then headed out to gather empowering and dignifying photos of returnees.” IOM

Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, The Gambia. Field work, with Malick Saine, and Bubacarr Jallow – photographing returnees who work as drivers out of Tippa Garage, Bakoteh. Image ©Jason Florio

For the remainder of the week, we headed out with the journalists to interview and photograph young Gambian’s who IOM had helped to come back home from Libya, to The Gambia.

Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, The Gambia field work, with journalists, Sulayman Ceesay and Louise ‘Tina’ Alsan. Image © Jason Florio
Photos Tell Stories: Photojournalism Workshop for IOM, The Gambia. Field work, with journalist, Isatu Bokum – photographing returnee, Fatou. Image ©Helen Jones-Florio

Huge thanks to all the journalists involved in the Photos Tell Stories photography workshop – who have produced some incredible work, over the past week – and, to IOM for inviting us to present the workshop. Respect and gratitude, to all the returnees, their friends and family, who agreed to share their very personal stories with us, along with allowing the journalists to photograph them.

The IOM Photojournalism Workshop participants, with Jason Florio and Helen Jones-Florio – L-R: HJF, Malick Saine, Louise ‘Tina’ Alsan Davis, Sulayman Ceesay, Bubacar Jallow, Isatu Bokum, Jason Florio, Senegambia Hotel, The Gambia, January 2020

The journalists’ images will be part of a forthcoming IOM photography exhibition, about the returnees who they have aided with their reintegration back into Gambian society – more news on the exhibition date, coming soon.

The Florios – Jason & Helen

The day always starts with coffee! Jason Florio, Helen Jones-FlorioPhotos Tell Stories – with journalist, and photojournalist workshop participant, Isatu Bokum. Lana’s, Bambo Junction, The Gambia

January 2020 – Currently in The Gambia, West Africa

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