Photography and Words: Jack Clark
Ok let’s get started, tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a postgraduate photojournalist from Devon, living in Cardiff trying to stay creative.
What are your influences in photography?
Predominantly story based work gets me going but I like clever uses of light and colours too.
What do you like to shoot?
Pretty much anything if the lights right but it’s mostly the interesting parts of everyday life.
So what exactly was happening in The Gambia at the time? For those of us who don’t know anything about it.
At the period of time I was in The Gambia, President Yayah Jammeh had just honorably stepped down from a 22 year long dictatorship that he had held over The Gambia. Although, after a while turned back on his decision, and publicly and angrily protested his abdication, up until the point where Senegalese and Nigerian troops were prepared to forcibly remove him from the state house where he had harbored himself, escalating in Jammeh being forced into exile. I pursued his successor, Adama Barrow who was forced into exile in Senegal due to the heightened risk of conflict, despite his intentions being to begin his presidency and presidential duties for The Gambia, bringing it out of decline and into financial prosperity.
The Gambia aye, can you tell us a bit about what you did whilst you were there?
Well, it started as a holiday with my girlfriend and her family, but the people we were staying with were clued up on the political situation at the time, so that naturally sparked an interest. After a while, problems that were happening internally with the government allowed information to be leaked through a Coalition WhatsApp group that I had gained access to. The WhatsApp group was basically leaked information coming first hand from the people inside the state house and within the army base. With the access to the story I had already, it made sense to try to put what I had learnt at university to work. With the old president’s power in question, the people were more open to talk about what they were unhappy with about their country. So things started happening, radio stations were being taken off air and electricity was being tampered with daily by the former president, in efforts to keep his power over the country. I then witnessed the mass exodus from Banjul to Barra.
Let’s talk about your photo series, can you explain a bit about them?
I had my cameras and was shooting as if on holiday anyway, then there were warnings to tourists not to enter Banjul and on most days the ferry would look totally different. During the exodus, waves of people were leaving with all the personal items they could, filling suit cases and even wheel barrows without a real clue of when they would be coming home.
Because of the commotion I was told not to shoot on my DSLR, I had to discreetly shoot on my phone so as not to attract too much attention to myself. After arriving at the museum in Barra we were greeted by GAF soldiers. We negotiated entry to a usually open museum and the military presence seemed suspicious. I had heard rumors of a military submarine belonging to President Yayah Jammeh that could have been dealing arms. The location of the museum overlooked the mouth of the river Gambia, and would not have usually been guarded, it was empty, bar a small community accompanying the military.
The same day, information was leaked by social media that President Yayah Jammeh had plans to sabotage an Adama Barrow rally by starting a riot. Adama Barrow’s supporters after receiving the information, didn’t show and the riot was avoided.
“To stay as low key as possible I had my phone concealed in a pouch I had bought at the market, and recorded my encounters through a small hole I had made in it.”
Half of the pictures from your gallery are still photos and the other half are screenshots, could you tell us why?
It wasn’t intentional, and if it could have been different I would have shot it on my DSLR like the rest of my images. I was put in contact with Peter Simpson, the head of media for Bono’s charity ONE. He has extensive knowledge of The Gambia and had warned me about photographing the events taking place. Exposing anything against the former president could have landed me in a lot of trouble and would have undermined any remaining influence he may have had. I had the makings of a project and I wanted to see how far I could take it. My phone was the easiest way to shoot and conceal my documentation. To stay as low key as possible I had my phone concealed in a pouch I had bought at the market and recorded my encounters through a small hole I had made in it. The results were quite limiting as I could only record from waist height and screen shot what I felt explained the most about the situation. In some situations I could use being a tourist to my advantage, almost pleading ignorance, allowing me to use my camera. The presence of a physical camera aided me to gain access to areas I otherwise couldn’t have.
“It’s a culmination of my efforts whilst I was in The Gambia
and it represents a lot of time and energy.”
Out of all the photos you sent over which is your favourite and why?
I really liked the photograph of President Adama Barrow, more so what it stands for than what it actually is. It’s a culmination of my efforts whilst I was in The Gambia and it represents a lot of time and energy. I prolonged my stay for the potential meet with the President and I wanted to make it happen. There were signs of him throughout my stay but never an actual meet until it eventually happened. It’s the process leading up to meeting him that makes the photograph mean more to me. Meeting during the night at his personal compound, I was searched by security then lead to his living room with his friends and family, the informality of the situation made it feel evermore surreal for me. I guess the appeal comes from the context of the image and my story coming full circle.
Any last words.
I’m going to release the full project and other images from my stay on my website on the 17th of February.