Photo Essays

A Vibrant Portrait of Liberia in GIFs

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“Ducor Hotel once had a tennis court that is now mostly used by kids from the community that developed around the hotel to play football.” (all images courtesy of François Beaurain)

Liberia occupies a gloomy place in the Western imagination. Ask the average American what they picture when they think of the country, and they might say child soldiers, the murderous dictator Charles Taylor, or Ebola.

While working in the capital Monrovia for several months during 2014, photographer François Beaurain saw something else entirely. Children were playing. Adults were working. People were making music, going to school, and generally just trying to live good lives. In hopes of getting to know the strangers she saw in the streets, Beaurain started creating GIFs of daily life. “The more I was shooting, the more people I met, and the more I understood about Liberia and Liberians,” she told Hyperallergic.

The GIFS that resulted are charmingly playful, colorful, and hypnotic. But they’re also more than just eye candy, breaking past the never-tired tropes of silly cats and models stumbling on the runway to describe life in a real community. In Monrovia Animated, Beaurain has produced an unusual form of GIF-as-documentary photo, one that brings to life a far-off locale and makes us consider it in a way we’ve rarely been asked to before.

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“The Mount Coffee hydropower plant was built in 1966 to provide power to Monrovia. In the ’90s, the facility was looted and destroyed. The plant is now in rehabilitation and is expected to be back to work in 2015.”
"Monrovia animated #106.  Hipco is a hip-hop proper to Liberia which is sung in Liberian-English exclusively. Mr.Smith Lib Money International is one of the numerous MCs of the Liberian Hipco scene. I met Mr Smith in the streets of Monrovia, he was looking for somebody to take some pictures of him. I am not sure that picture was what he was expecting from me."
“Wesseh Freeman is a blind musician from Monrovia making his living singing in Duala market. He learned music by himself and built his “guitar” out of an oil can. His music is about the war, the history of Liberia and his own life. The story of Wesseh Freeman is not really clear to me. What I understood is that he turned blind when he was a kid and was then kicked out from his home. This is when he would have started to learn and play the music.”
"Hipco is a hip-hop proper to Liberia which is sung in Liberian-English exclusively. Mr.Smith Lib Money International is one of the numerous MC of the Liberian Hipco scene. I met Mr Smith in the streets of Monrovia, he was looking for somebody to take some pictures of him. I am not sure this picture was what he was expecting from me..."
“Hipco is a hip-hop proper to Liberia which is sung in Liberian-English exclusively. Mr.Smith Lib Money International is one of the numerous MC of the Liberian Hipco scene. I met Mr Smith in the streets of Monrovia, he was looking for somebody to take some pictures of him. I am not sure this picture was what he was expecting from me…”
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“Princess is 14 years old and lives on the slopes of Ducor Hotel’s hills . She’s standing on the ruin of a small swimming pool.”
"Ducor Hotel was built on a hill that was once surrounded with forests. This hill has been since chaotically urbanised and suffers from severe erosion. Heavy rains turn the streets into torrents and cascades eroding the foundations of houses."
“Ducor Hotel was built on a hill that was once surrounded with forests. This hill has been since chaotically urbanised and suffers from severe erosion. Heavy rains turn the streets into torrents and cascades eroding the foundations of houses.”
"This is the only wave pool in West Africa!"
“This is the only wave pool in West Africa!”
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“In a dollarized economy where US and Liberian dollars cohabitate, money changing is one of the most common ‘small business’ in Liberia.”
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“Countless churches have to compete to attract believers, so posters for churches are some of the most common commercials in Monrovia. The lady in the photo allowed me to take off this poster only because she was not a follower of the ‘Shake the Throne’ church.”
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“While Chinese products have invaded Monrovia’s markets, numerous shops are still selling the lappas used to tailor traditional clothes.”
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“In Liberia, expats live in houses behind 3 meter walls doubled with barbed wire. Private security companies control the access to these fortresses. In this compound, for instance, there were more guards than guarded people.”
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“Monrovia has countless evangelical churches. Church is a flourishing business in Liberia and a major part of Liberians’ lives. Christopolis is the former name of Monrovia and the name of the church where this gif was shot.”
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The sunset.
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