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Playful Gifs of Liberians Break Down Stereotypes

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Ducor Hotel once had a tennis court that is now mostly used by kids from the community for football.

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Hipco is a hip-hop distinctive 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 that picture was what he was expecting from me…

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Girl with the aubergine dress

For Monrovia Animated, Paris-based photographer Francois Beaurain combats the sensationalistic and bleak media portrayal of the Liberian capital with a set of gifs that highlight the exuberance and energy of its people.

After following his humanitarian girlfriend to the city for her work, the artist abandoned his unease about relocating in pursuit of artistic freedom, taking in his new surroundings as sites of endless possibility. Without access to a car, he traveled throughout Monrovia on foot, experiencing the community firsthand and introducing himself to strangers he met along the way. Most people, he explains, were generally wary of cameras, and he always asked permission before taking their portraits.

Beaurain discovered that for many of the the Liberian people, the key to capturing a good picture lied in the collaboration between the artist and his subject. His protagonists excelled when they had a role to play, and most avoided being the passive object of photographs. They preferred, he says, when he worked with them, first building a relationship and then instructing them to move in certain ways. Although many of his subjects had asked for a fee before they began a sequence, most had so much fun that they had forgotten—or chosen not to care— by the time the shoot was over.

With his playful gifs, Beaurain hopes to paint a more nuanced portrait of a county that is so often dominated by news of Ebola and civil war. In his eyes, Monrovia is brimming with potential and life; even with the thousands of still photographs he took between March 2014 and May 2014, only the animated images do justice to the energy he encountered during his time there. He cites a recent article he read about the Ebola outbreak as evidence of the spirit of the Monrovian people: “even in the middle of the worst Ebola epidemic ever, the people in Liberia were surprisingly living normally.”

One of the photographer’s favorite sites to shoot against is the Ducor Hotel, a five star hotel that has, since the Liberian Civil War, fallen into disrepair. For Beaurain, the structure has become “the symbol of the rise and fall of Liberia.” All is not lost in this country, and from the vitality of its people, we find hope for its future. One gif that sticks out in Beaurain’s mind is the one of the cartwheeling boy, which he explains is the only image that was not staged. “You can see the kid is too happy to perform,” writes the photographer. For more, follow Beaurain on Tumblr.

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“Child soldier” is the most prominent cliché about Liberia. The fact that ten years after the end of the conflict this cliché is still present in international media inspired this gif. Today in Monrovia, the only guns the kids play with are made of plastic.

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Beaches a few kilometers outside Monrovia are made of clean white sand. They offer a nice escape and good surf for weekends.

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Wesseh Freeman is a blind musician from Monrovia making his living singing in Duala market. He learned the 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 of his home. This is when he would have started to learn and play music.

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Ikea has no stores yet in Liberia. Furniture is locally made with discrete shapes and colors.

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This is the only wave pool in West Africa.

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The former French embassy is an impressive building close t0 the US one that was looted during the civi war but never rebuilt. The current French embassy is more low profile, showing France’s declining influence in Africa.

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Women do most of the housework in Liberia.

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Ducor Hotel is built on a hill that was once surrounded with forests. This hill has been since chaotically urbanized and suffers from severe erosion. Heavy rains turn the streets into torrents and cascades, eroding the foundation of houses.

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In Liberia, expats live in houses behind 3 meter walls doubled with barbed wires. 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. The church is a flourishing business in Liberia and a major part of the Liberians’ life. Christopolis is the former name of Monrovia and the name of the church where this gif was shot.

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Beauty salon

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Most of Liberian people do not have access to water and sanitation. Wells are important social places in communities where people meet and chat.

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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 working again in 2015.

All images © Francois Beaurain

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