The Freetown I see

  • 22 October 2012
  • From the section In Pictures
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Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Joseph, the president of the amputee football club, says that despite his misfortune during the war, he is grateful that he still plays football with the passion he had for it as a child. Life goes on.

Earlier this year I spoke to photographer Lee Karen Stow about her project in Sierra Leone where she has been training women to work in the industry.

Francess Ngaboh-Smart was one of the those who took part in Lee's first course in 2007 and has since made a new life as a photographer, using the camera to express her thoughts and dreams. But more than that she has received commissions from NGOs, the Special Courts Sierra Leone, and more recently the Commonwealth Secretariat of London.

In 2010, Francess published her first photographic body of work entitled Nya Jee Salone (My Mother Sierra Leone) which has since sold out, providing income for rent, food and her family's welfare. She has also studied at the Pacific North West Arts School in Washington State with National Geographic photographer Sam Abell.

She also mentors young people in Sierra Leone, helping them to face tough choices of their own.

Image copyright Lee Karen Stow
Image caption Frances at her exhibition in Hull

Prior to the work with Lee in 2007 Frances was struggling to find work and watched as some of her friends went into prostitution, a path taken by those fighting to survive. "Something I would never forget was losing my friend to one of the effects of poverty; forced prostitution," says Francess. "Just like me she was raised by a single parent that held firmly to the view that education is better than silver and gold.

"But as early as age 15 when she lost her mother and had no relative to make her continue her education, she resorted to selling her body to provide for her basic needs. Before she knew it, she got pregnant. As a consequence of not getting prenatal medical care she lost her life to maternal mortality in the hands of a traditional birth attendant.

"Against this backdrop photography introduced into my life a purpose, because I feel that I have lived deeply and fully. I can recognize a well-made over face to cover domestic violence. I can tell a teenage drop-out girl and know the reason why it happened. I can sense sexual abuse when it is coming, and know the areas that need allocation of budget or aid. In short I know the story; I am the story and can highlight it better through pictures.''

Francess' work is currently on show the University of Hull, sponsored by WISE (Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation) University of Hull, Women with Cameras and the Black History Partnership.

Here are a few of the frames on show.

Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption LAJ, a young hip-hop star during the Say No To Violence show in Freetown
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Backstage at a fashion show in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Frances: "Koro was the early name given to a prostitute, then senjago, then raragyal. Now it's kolonkoh. While people back then would consider these names as swearing words, in this era graduates, single ladies... feel good to say 'me am a kolonkoh'. Kolonko feels she is a legal hustler and sees no wrong in selling her body."
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Frances: "Strength of a woman. Sweltering heat, drumming rain, terrifying thunder, blinding lighting. Nothing can stop her performing her duties."
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Nature acts in a compensative way. In some areas where water is so prized children wash under the rain and adults put out the bowls and rubbers and all is satisfied.
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption Isiatu Kamara, an emerging Fashion designer, believes his country and its designers are ready to produce remarkable Sierra Leonean couture.
Image copyright Francess Ngaboh-Smart
Image caption A layered, reflected image of River number two in Freetown, Sierra Leone.