Sierra Leone through the lens of Joey Lawrence: Braving new heights

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12 January 2018
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Photographer and director Joey Lawrence has travelled the world capturing human stories. Speaking more on his work with the residents of Tombohuaun, he recounts his time photographing their methods of fishing and palm oil processing, as well as how they helped him master some beautifully unique shots.

To make the in-action shots of the villagers, we photographed them processing palm oil and fishing, two important industries for the community. We learned that work is shared equally among the men and women in the village, with each gender performing a select set of duties.

While many of the villagers own their own palm oil plantations, Tombohuaun also has one community plantation run by volunteer villagers, which is where we focussed our photography. Profits from this plantation are funnelled into a community piggy bank. If a resident has an emergency and needs a loan, they can take money out of this bank as long as they pay it back with interest.

Momoh Babaga, 22, with his knife carried in his mouth, climbs a tree to collect palm kernels which will be processed into oil, Tombohuaun, Kailahun District, Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/Joey Lawrence
Momoh, 22, climbs a tree to collect palm kernels which will be processed into oil. Tombohuaun, Kailahun District, Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/ Joey Lawrence
Momoh, 22, climbs a tree to collect palm kernels which will be processed into oil. Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, May 2017.
Women work at one of several community palm plantations in Tombohuaun, processing palm kernels to make palm oil. Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/ Joey Lawrence
Women work at one of several community palm plantations in Tombohuaun, processing palm kernels to make palm oil. Sierra Leone, May 2017.

It wasn’t until we delved into the palm oil processing photography that we witnessed in amazement the men’s method for climbing the palm fern trees—using a sling-like apparatus into which they lean their body weight as they scaled the bark with their feet. After clumsily attempting it myself (with the villagers teasing me to come down before I broke my neck), I quietly joked that it might be nice to have a ladder so I could photograph their work from above.

Much to my surprise, the next morning a handmade ladder tied together with twine was set out for my photography work. As the villagers held onto the bottom of it, I climbed the rickety (but structurally sound) rungs to the top.
 

Joey Lawrence photographing Momoh Babaga, 22, as he climbs trees to collect palm kernels, Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/Jesse Korman
Joey Lawrence photographs Momoh Babaga, 22, as he climbs trees to collect palm kernels, Tombohuaun, Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/Jesse Korman

Thanks to their generosity and ingenuity I was able to capture images of their work from a totally unique vantage point.

We also photographed the villagers fishing for giant catfish, which is done in the river using handmade nets. Making photographs of their work from the shore wasn’t an option: if you shoot it from the shore, it’ll look like it was shot from the shore. So I slipped out of my shoes (going barefoot helps me to keep my balance in moving water) and into river up to my chest with my medium format camera. Sure, it’s a risk to carry expensive equipment into the water, but to me, getting the better shot is always more important. And the best vantage point for river images is just above the surface of the water.

Joey Lawrence taking picture of fishing WaterAid/Jesse Korman
Matta, 27, fishing using home-made hooped nets in the River Male near the village of Tombohuaun. It takes two people to fish this way and usually a lot of patience. Kailahun District, Sierra Leone, May 2017.WaterAid/ Joey Lawrence
Matta, 27, fishing using home-made hooped nets in the River Male near the village of Tombohuaun. It takes two people to fish this way and usually a lot of patience.

It was a dream project for me, working with a well-respected water charity that does thorough, responsible work, and an overall lovely two weeks in the rainforest with the people of Tombohuaun.

See more of Joey's work with the people of Tombohuaun here

Read part one of Joey's blog here

This is an extract of a blog originally posted on 30 November on Joey's website here