Things are seldom what they seem
skim milk masquerades as cream
(William S. Gilbert)
Published on 5 February 2012
If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?
Liberia ’77 is a documentary that follows two Canadian brothers as they return to the country of their childhood – after 30 years and two civil wars – to find the people and places of their father’s photographs. But the story didn’t end there...
During the filming of Liberia ’77 we discovered that much of the country’s record of a peaceful past had been destroyed by war. Historical events, significant people and places, were all but forgotten by many we met, overwhelmed by memories of violence. We met a whole generation of Liberians who had grown up in a time of conflict, knowing nothing but violence and destruction.
Those who had happy, healthy family photographs were marked for death by rebel soldiers. To save their lives, people burned their own photos, even threw their cameras away. The National Museum was looted; its contents destroyed. We found it closed and dilapidated, a small remaining collection of the country’s photographs randomly piled and rapidly deteriorating in a corner closet.
We realized that the envelope of our dad’s photos we carried was more than just a collection of family snapshots of an idyllic ex-pat childhood. For many Liberians we showed them to, they were rare proof of a once peaceful country – and hope for a brighter future for a country working hard to heal.
Sando Moore, a Liberian photojournalist who lost all his archives said to us:
A chance meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf confirmed our discovery. We showed her our favourite image, a beautiful shot our dad made of Monrovia circa 1977 of two young girls scampering across a well-kept city street. She asked those of us who had photos of pre-war Liberia to return them, so “that the children of Liberia can know its own history.”
We know there are a lot of images out there. We’ve seen them. They are in homes and family albums and collections around the world.
There have been a lot of photos taken of Liberia. Now it’s time to give some back.
Liberia was established in the 1820s as a colony for former African-American slaves. Since that time it has seen great periods of prosperity and peace but has become better known for its long-running, ruinous civil wars and its role in a rebellion in neighbouring Sierra Leone.
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