I recently completed a photographic project entitled ‘Sweet Salone: Portraits of Contemporary Sierra Leone’ – kindly featured on this website by Rob. What did I hope to achieve with this project? Simply to provide an insight into the lives of a few Sierra Leoneans in the hope that it might produce a more nuanced representation of the country than previously shown in the media.
Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world, with terrible rates of infant mortality and one of the lowest life expectancies in Africa. But these stark statistics should not define the region, or its people. I could have so easily turned my lens to the inhabitants of Kroo Bay (one of the worst slums in the world), but that would have been too easy, and too reductive a view of Sierra Leone.
Ultimately I feel very ambivalent about the kind of ‘shoot and run’ tactics employed by some photographers that sees them profit from someone else’s hardship. I also question how helpful these snapshot images are in promoting the cause of LEDCs. I feel that we are so often bombarded with media images of poverty that we have become almost desensitised to such sights. I think it’s now time we start to represent those in the third world as individuals, not as victims. Perhaps this change of tact could have a profound effect on the way we view the developing world, and the lives of the people that live there.
This at least was my aim – and so I set out to photograph and interview as broad a cross section of Sierra Leonean society as possible. I met everyone from musicians to village chiefs, civil servants to dollar boys, hairdressers to taxi drivers, soldiers to schoolgirls. Consequently I came away with a very rich understanding of what Sierra Leone is like today, and I can tell you that it is a country that is characterised by so much more than its poverty and sad history. It has fully moved on from the civil war that defines it in so many people’s imaginations, and it now stands as a nation steeped in optimism and hope. The country still has a long way to go, but if the opportunities on offer could match the motivation of its people, then Sierra Leone would be positively thriving by now. As it stands there is a dearth of employment in the country. Aid still floods in, a lot of which is channelled into education, but without jobs this education is not capitalised on.
Today Sierra Leone has a huge amount to offer; it’s rich in minerals, has a climate perfectly suited to agriculture and has some of the most beautiful beaches in Africa. What Sierra Leone would now benefit from alongside aid is foreign investment, better infrastructure and sustainable tourism. All of this would provide much sought after jobs, which in turn would bolster the economy and allow Sierra Leone to flourish independently of aid. However these things will not start to happen until outdated perceptions of the country are changed. It is my hope that this project has gone some way to doing this.