Unlike any student I’ve worked with, Abbas, who I jokingly called, “the Mayor of Monrovia,” is a three-time Liberian Photographer of the Year, father of two, and reporter in one of the most intense post-conflict countries that I have ever come to know. Exiled from his country, while civil war tore it apart, Abbas spent five years in the early-2000’s in Ghana where he wrote for a refugee magazine called “Exile News.” For two weeks I had the privilege to shadow Abbas, teaching photography and learning the important lesson of patience and reverence.
The smell of newsprint and ink welcomed me to the offices everyday before walking out together to cover the executive branch of the Liberian government. From anti-corruption news conferences and election preparations, to University students and the Liberian National Football Team, Abbas brought me to otherwise inaccessible situations. Every day he surprised me with an assignment, and everyday I surprised him with a new set of photographic challenges. Together we began to build from the ground up a digital workflow from image capture to print. Together we developed the visual language by controlling light and telling stories. Together we wandered out that door everyday from opposite sides of the world to teach one another a lesson from our home.
Walking out into the streets of Monrovia, was always a beautiful cacophony of vibrant color, overwhelming chatter and car exhaust, and peaceful moments of Liberian life unfolding piece by piece in every corner and inch of pavement. However, unlike any other place I have been fortunate enough to visit, never have I experienced such frustration and hesitation to take a photograph. Maybe as the result of years of civil war, and a culture of distrust for your neighbor, photographing on the streets could easily devolve from peaceful to violent in the blink of an eye. It became close to impossible to take a photograph on the street without confrontation.