Freetown, Sierra Leone

Photography by Julie Graber

Exhibit, SAR Boardroom Hallway

Thursday, August 12–Friday, October 1, 2010

Busy Market, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Busy Market, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Daniel of Banana Water, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Daniel of Banana Water, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Busy Market, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Busy Market, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Photojournalists say that the most compelling pictures are of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, or extraordinary people doing ordinary things. Julie Graber’s 2003 images from Freetown, Sierra Leone do both.

The people we see in these photographs are street vendors, tradespeople, and market women. They are children bathing and commuters walking through the West African monsoons. Ordinary people in one sense. But extraordinary when we consider that for a decade and a half, the only images most of the world saw from Sierra Leone were images of young men with guns or their victims. The war that raged across this region of West Africa from 1989 until 2003 made the abnormal seem normal. Extraordinary violence was made to look shockingly routine in newspapers and on television through endless repetition. To see photographs like the ones in this collection, images of daily urban life in a West African city, is by contrast to see the ordinary made extraordinary. Against the backdrop of war these mundane tasks appear heroic and exceptional.

And yet these are not photographs that erase the traumas of recent history. Even as it documents the routine acts of living – walking, bathing, peeling cassava – the camera records something else. The lens in Julie’s medium-format Yashica is reversed, creating an allegorical image that is sharp in portions of the frame and blurred in others. The effect is to call ordinariness into question. There is a ghostliness in the frame that evokes the realities of a war recently ended, a war that impacted everyone living in Sierra Leone at the time. When these frames were made in 2003, that war had just ended. But now, as then, it haunts every aspect of daily living.

Exhibit hours: 9:00am–4:00pm

For more information call (505) 954-7200.

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