Night fishers, oyster gatherers, rat-catchers, ceremonial leaders, farmers – Africa’s humble workers are graced with dignity in a photo series shot in the sacred forest of Makasutu.

For several years now, award winning photographer Jason Florio’s surreal and classic black and white portraits of villagers living near the sacred forest of Makasutu have captured the imaginations of many around the world. Resulting from a 930 km expedition by foot of The Gambia, West Africa in 2009 to produce a series of portraits of African chiefs, he received a fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society in London for his artistic efforts and dedication to portraying Makasutu’s people with dignity.

The body of work from the journey, titled ‘Silafando: A Gift to You on Behalf of my Journey’ won Florio The International Photography Awards – People Photographer of the Year 2010.

Resonating with a lushness and interior investigation of his subjects, as seen in masters such as Irving Penn, Jason Florio’s elegant series is immensely enriching. Each very personal image is shot in an outdoor studio jerry–rigged in available spaces and formalized with a black linen sheet, which the artist hangs in the trees to provide an isolating and focusing scrim.

Members of the small Makasutu community are pictured in the execution of their duties – night fishers, oyster gatherers, rat-catchers, ceremonial leaders. Concurrently, Florio came to know the elders of every small village in Gambia and made their formal portraits, much like a “presidential portrait,” with important appurtenances at the ready, Florio imbues his subjects with a quiet dignity, warmth, and shimmering beauty unique in photography today.

“Inspired by the direct and simple, yet penetrating style of the mid centrury American photographer Mike Disfarmer, I began to photograph the people who lived and worked in and around Makasutu. I did not have a long-term plan or goal in mind on my first trip. At night I slept in a hammock in the forest near the Mandina Bilong: a small tributary of The Gambia river flanked by grey tentacled mangroves upon who’s sinewy limbs oysters cling and are harvested by the local women.

During the day I would set up my black background between trees and see who appeared that I could photograph. Other days I would load up my borrowed motorcycle with my 8 x 10 Deardof camera and snake through the sandy paths and surreal baobab trees to find my subjects.”

“Photography for me is a way to strip away the boundaries, the prejudices and the false ideas that society and environmental pressures impose to frame my vision. It is a conduit and a tool to bridge a myriad of barriers, be they linguistic, age related, or ideological. In my approach the most important thing about photography is the process. It is about being in the moment and about the connection with the person or place I photograph. It is about finding a way to describe myself and in a way engage with humanity.”

About Jason Florio
Jason Florio is a NYC based photographer and writer from London. For the past 10 years he has worked as a freelance photojournalist around the globe for publications including The New Yorker, New York Times, Outside, Libération and The Times of London. At the beginning of his career he had gained recognition after being one of the last photographers in Afghanistan to photograph the anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in August 2001, who was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives on September 9th, then to be at the foot of the World Trade Center on September 11th as it collapsed.

The Gambia has been a place Florio regularly returns to. For the past twelve years he has made yearly trips there to work on this long-term project. The culminating body of work was shown in New York in 2009 in a solo exhibition and the work won a Black and White magazine Spotlight Award, as well as garnering him a nomination for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography. Part of the Makasutu series was acquired by the Haggerty Museum of Art. Florio was awarded the ‘Joy of Giving Something’ grant in 2004 to produce the first ever assigned story for Aperture in their 50 year history, called ‘This is Libya’, which is now part of the permanent collection of The Forward Thinking Museum. His work on Afghanistan is in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, as well as a number of private collections. Florio is planning another expedition to West Africa to retrace the journey of his hero, Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who went in search of the source of the Niger River 200 years ago.

 Jason Florio’s work can be found @ floriophoto.com/

About The Author

Afritorial

Neva is a storyteller and media strategist with a background in PR, film, advertising and digital marketing who is passionate about technology, new media and the endless possibilities of the social and mobile sphere. Read more about her on our 'About Us' page.

7 Responses

    • Afritorial
      Neva Mwiti

      Hi Helen,

      Thank you so much for sending the information through. I’m always after great content on Africa and I’ll definitely be featuring it soon and let you know when I do.

      Asante sana tena!

      Neva

      Reply

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