Jason Florio is an award-winning photojournalist and filmmaker, originally from London, based in NYC for 18 years before relocating to The Gambia, West Africa, in 2013. He has produced images and documentaries for clients including The New York Times, Smithsonian, The New Yorker, Outside, Bloomberg, Geographical, MIT Technology Review, and Amnesty International. His focus has been on under-reported stories about people living on the margins of society and human rights. His work has been recognized with a number of awards, including The Magnum Photography Award for his work on migration. His work is held in a number of public and private collections and has been presented in solo and joint exhibitions in the USA, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Jason is represented by Redux Pictures in NYC.
Florio completed the first recorded circumnavigation of The Gambia by foot, co-leading with his wife Helen Jones-Florio – a 930km expedition, producing an award-winning series of portraits titled ‘Silafando’. Three years later he co-led, with Helen, the first recorded expedition of River Gambia from its source in Guinea-Conakry to the Atlantic Ocean, in The Gambia – creating a document of the communities that live along its 1130km course before a planned dam is constructed. He is currently continuing a long-term project in the Gambia documenting the victims of the former government under the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.
The Gambia, West Africa, is a popular winter-sun holiday destination, but many tourists are not aware of the recent dark history of ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’ – as it is fondly known. From 1994 -2017 President Yahya Jammeh ruled The Gambia as his fiefdom, crushing dissent, and opposition with brutality. His hit squad, the ‘Junglers’ 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.
Having worked and lived on and off in The Gambia since 1998, Helen Jones-Florio, my wife and collaborator, and I were personally aware of former President Yahya Jammeh’s control over society. It was not until Jammeh fled into exile in January 2017, after an astonishing election defeat, did the litany of violations under his regime start to come to light. The Gambia has been our second home and we felt it was our duty as documentarians to give face and voice to the victims, survivors, and their families. Despite hundreds of testimonies by both victims and perpetrators at the ongoing Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), many Jammeh loyalists are still in denial of the crimes, he and his cadre are now being accused of. Making it important to keep bringing the victims’ stories to public attention.
“I was taken downstairs. They covered my eyes and I felt an injection in my back, like a big staple gun, and then I felt something enter my system…burning me inside. I was screaming, shouting, calling to Allah for help. They started to beat me with a piece of hard rubber, kicked me, punched me…I thought, I am now dead”. Pa Ousman Njie
Since 2017, we have photographed over one-hundred-and-twenty portraits, and sites of violations, and recorded video testimonies.
“When one of the soldiers used his cutlass to cut off Adamo’s shoulder and the blood is flowing all over the place…I think we realized then, that the soldiers wanted to kill us all.” Martin Kyere, sole survivor of the 2005 massacre in The Gambia of over 50 West African migrants
Our work aims to expose the wide-reaching forms and scale of abuse – to create a historical archive and to be used as a tool for advocacy and public awareness. Early in the project, we came to understand that many people who sat for the portraits found it cathartic, having previously not been able to openly tell their stories, and so our work took on additional and profound meaning and made it a collaborative process. Alagie Sonko, falsely imprisoned by the regime, said to us “I don’t care what you do with my picture or my story, but the fact you came and listened to me, that is enough”
Alagie Sonko, falsely imprisoned by the regime, during is interview, said to us “I don’t care what you do with my picture or my story, but the fact you came and listened to me, that is enough”.
“The most powerful man in The Gambia, who am I for anybody to listen to, to believe me, and where do I say this, and when do I say it? What do I expect is going to happen? This did not happen…this did not happen…this did not happen…BUT, that is what happened on the night Yahya Jammeh raped me, and how he did it”Fatou ‘Toufah’ Jallow. Survivor of rape, human rights activist, filmmaker, and writer.
An Afghan Diary: For those of who have had the privilege to have spent time in Afghanistan, I am sure all hearts go out to the extraordinary people who are on the verge of facing another surge of uncertainty as the US troops prepare to leave on Sept 11 2021. Jason Florio
My journey to the Taliban-controlled region of Afghanistan in August 2000 was in fact not planned. I was on my way to Kashmir to follow the ‘jihad trail’ when I got a call to join my colleague and writer Pepe Escobar, who was working on jihad stories on the Pakistan-Afghan border – he said: “This is (Afghanistan) where it’s really happening…”.
Crossing the Afghanistan-Pakistan border by foot at the Khyber pass we spent two weeks driving through the heart of Taliban-Afghanistan to try and get a clear understanding of who the Taliban were and how they held such sway over the populace. We felt we had dropped through a tear in the space-time fabric to the surreal land of corrupted ancient ideologies spouted from the mouths kohl-eyed men driving brand-new Toyota 4×4’s, where photography was outlawed – and because of which, we were arrested on two occasions.
To follow the full story on Afghanistan we knew we also need it to head to the north-east to meet the Taliban opposition, the Northern Alliance, who controlled that portion of the country. This we could not do until a year later in August 2001.
Our first attempt to cross the border from Pakistan to the Northern Alliance area disguised as women wearing full covering burqas failed. We then spent the next three weeks organizing a ride into the country via Tajikistan on a Russian helicopter operated by the Northern Alliance.
Being in the north-east was like being in Shangri-La compared to our time with the Taliban. We worked fairly freely and were eventually granted an interview with the legendary commander, Ahmed Shah Massoud. Despite our two successful Afghan journeys, we felt that the world at the end of August 2001 the media cared little about what was happening in this harsh land.