I just returned from a job in Bologna several pounds heavier. It was actually the most enjoyable trip I’ve had in years: not only could I wander endlessly but the people were extraordinarily nice. In five days no one objected to being photographed, everyone was unerringly polite and everyone humoured my laboured and almost non-existant Italian.

I was searching for a way to photograph the city and quite by chance, after a long walk, wandered into a newsagent that sold books and found a panoramic image from the top of somewhere obviously very high. The guy in the shop was convinced it was taken from the top of a famous church but the caption read ‘O Coronato’… Confused, I called my new editor at Grazia Neri, Anna Savini. As luck would have it, Anna is from Bologna and the Coronato is actually a privately owned tower – and her Mum knew the owner. Very handy. Matteo Giovanardi who lives in and owns the tower was charm itself – but I had to climb the tower alone as he was waiting for his daughter to come back from school… I have to say that the tower was a marvel. It was also very high. For someone who isn’t great at heights and had already climbed the The Asinelli Tower, sweating and gripping the frail handrails tightly swearing never to do this kind of thing again, it was a bit of a trial. The view was however, extraordinary. The light, just before sunset, sublime. I remembered why I’d become a photographer. As I heaved myself down, Matteo showed me around his home that is the Prendiparte Tower…

I was terribly fortunate to be allowed to photograph from the Tower: I think Matteo has only granted permission twice – both for books. Anyway, this is what I saw:

Italy - Bologna - Panorama of Bologna ©Stuart Freedman
Italy - Bologna - Panorama of Bologna ©Stuart Freedman

I have to thank Caroline, digital guru extroaordinaire, for stitching together several images (obviously I came prepared – without a panoramic attachment on the tripod…).

Unseen but not forgotten…

Last month saw the release of Unseen a new collaborative project by the British Press Photographers Association (BPPA). So many images are commissioned editorially and never used and this project sought to showcase some of that work. I have a few spreads inside as well as the cover of which I’m very proud.

Ibrahim was amputated in Freetown in 1999 when the rebels occupied the Waterloo area. They tried to hack off his other hand but were unable to

The image shows Ibrahim who had his right arm hacked off by rebels from the RUF (Revolutionary United Front).
Despite the Guardian Magazine running the story, the image above was never published. It did however get some recognition at Pictures of the Year (POY) in America.

I remember when I took the assignment, I was very apprehensive. I’d made quite a lot of work in Sierra Leone for a project on young men and violence called The Lord of the Flies (largely an attempt to partially refute Robert Kaplan’s arguments) and had returned subsequently to look at the immediate effects of the mutilations. In the intervening years it seemed that the amputees had become part of a grotesque circus of photographers coming in, ‘doing the atrocity tour’ and leaving; I honestly didn’t know what I could really add to the story. Still, the job was to produce a big exhibition for Handicap International and I had no editorial constraints.

I tried very hard to just photograph the amputees as they were – the fact that they’d been brutalised, an aside on everyday life. In one of those rare moments that make doing this work extraordinary, I turned a corner in a village in Makeni and came face to face with Hassan Fufona. Hassan had polio as a child and the rebels cut off his one good arm. I’d spent days with him in Freetown in 1999 watching him beg, being fed and returning to a hut where he lived with his ageing parents and small brother. A haunted, gaunt boy. Now newly married with two adopted war orphan children in a new town he was transformed. I photographed him in bed with his wife giggling as she put on his prosthetic harness and I photographed him as the head of a family outside his new house. Now, I don’t make any claims to have changed much with photography or in fact to have done much to make the world a better place but meeting Hassan again certainly changed me a little. Sometimes you can’t see the small victories in Africa but they are there. You just have to know where to look.

Hassan Fofona begs outside the Post office
Hassan Fofona begs outside the Post office
Hassan straps on his artificial arm
Hassan straps on his artificial arm
Hassan Fufona and his family outside their resettlement house
Hassan Fufona and his family outside their resettlement house

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth

from Ben Okri’s ‘An African Elegy’

Welcome to the blog

Welcome to Umbra Sumus.

This is something new for me. I hope to share some thoughts on photography, its rapidly changing face and perhaps some other things too…

I’d like to be able to showcase some imagery from my career that many people will be unfamiliar with and perhaps create some debate about them.

Please feel free to bookmark Umbra Sumus: I hope you’ll return from time to time.