21 November 2012

Liberia 30 Years Ago

A Canadian photographer, Jeff Topham has begun a photo exhibition in Monrovia, highlighting Liberia's historical events, places and buildings.

Jeff has called on Liberians all over the world to bring on board photos from the past to beautify the country's National Museum. He is currently in Liberia along with his father and a brother Andrew, giving facelift to the National Museum.

Jeff Topham and his brother Andrew recalled that in the 70s, Liberia was a childhood paradise of endless beaches, thick jungle - even a pet chimp. Their father worked for Exchem, a Canadian company that made explosives for the Liberian mining industry.

He also took thousands of photographs - extensively recording not only an ex-pat family's extraordinary African experience, but also unknowingly documenting a country and a people on the edge of destruction.

30 years later, and now both photographers themselves, Jeff and Andrew returned here to revisit and re-shoot their childhood 'Eden'. But what started as a personal journey, exploring the connection between memory and photography, quickly evolved into something they didn't expect.

In searching for the characters in their father's photos and their former housekeeper James, including pet chimpanzee Evelyn, and former employees of their father's explosives plant, the brothers discovered more than just memories.

Three decades later, the people - and the chimps - are still there, seemingly waiting for their return, which forced them to ask themselves some tough questions about western impact on Africa and about their responsibility as industrialists, journalists, and human beings.

It also became clear that their father's photos are far more than just family snapshots of an idyllic ex-pat childhood. For a people whose happy memories - and photographs - have been destroyed by war, the images also offer a rare proof of a once peaceful and prosperous country, and hope for a brighter future.

They saw how photography could play an important role in helping heal a deeply wounded nation and its people.

"Liberia 77 is an African adventure for us all - an exploration of the universal importance of photography in defining our lives - and offering an unforgettable portrait of how despite time, distance, culture and war, photography connects us all", Jeff concluded.

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