Photographer, Jason Florio: Boys with painted faces, River Gambia, Senegal, West Africa

Random photo of the day: December 2012 – we came across these boys on one of our first days, in the canoes, on the River Gambia Expedition, in Senegal. I spied them through my binoculars – I was on hippo watch – from a distance. And, at first, I thought they had masks on. I remember turning around to Florio, who was paddling behind me in the canoe, saying excitedly “there are boys up there, on the river bank, and I think they are wearing some kind of masks…almost like Halloween!” As we neared, we realised the masks were actually some kind of paint – or more likely crushed oyster-shell powder. We asked them why they had painted their faces and bodies and what did the numbers mean? They shrugged and giggled ‘we are only playing’ translated our Mandinka speaking team mate, Ebou. And then they promptly jumped in the river – not before Florio got a couple of shots of them though – and washed it all off. Had we arrived a moment or two later, we would have missed this rather wondrous spectacle.

‘River Gambia’ Jason Florio’s new series of images from the journey