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.
In this 25-minute documentary, The Toufah Foundation offers an analysis of the Gambian Truth Commission’s (TRRC) proceedings in regard to sexual and gender-based violence. Using footage from the hearings, Toufah Jallow questions the predominant attitude towards women stories, who most of the time remain unacknowledged or doubted. Parallels are made with other contexts where powerful men raped young women in total impunity for many years, such as Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein and El Chapo, the Mexican drug lord.
February, 2021: On assignment in The Gambia. My current project is based around returnees, who left by ‘the backway’ to Libya but who have since returned to home. Documenting them – through film and photography – as they begin to rebuild their lives, with the support of the organisation, Catholic Relief Services.
Image: Rose stands in front of her shop on a busy junction in the Bakoteh area of Gambia. In a few short months, she has already expanded the size of her shop by half. With the income from her shop, she supports her family – including employing her mum to work in the shop and paying for her sister to go to college. (Image of Jason Florio courtesy of Helen Jones-Florio)
See more of Jason Florio’s work on irregular migration: