Jason Florio presents his photography at the Bronx Documentary Center, NY

A big thank you to Mike Kamber and Nina Robinson, for inviting us up to the Bronx Documentary Center, NY, last night, where Jason Florio presented his work as a photojournalist – to a group of photography students – and also showed images from our three Gambia-based projects, which we’ve worked on together: ‘Makasutu-mecca in the forest‘, ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – 930km African odyssey‘(+ the blog), and ‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source-sea African odyssey(+ the blog).

Bronx Florio screen _1416 copy

Ready to roll © Helen Jones-Florio

Flo Bronx Doc _1434 copy

Florio at work – Bronx Documentary Center, NY © Helen Jones-Florio

Afterwards, we were honored to see some of the students presenting current photography, and film, projects they are working on. To say that we were impressed would be an understatement. We saw thought provoking, professional, well-executed work. We could have sat there all night, happy to see all of the students present their work. However, I guess we had to let them go home at some time, and 11.30pm seemed about that time!

Hats off to Mike, and his team at the BDC, for opening their door and being so giving of their time, expertise and experience, for these free workshops. BDC also hold a free film workshop, on Tuesdays (I believe), and Mike said they are considering starting a writing workshop. Please do go and check the center out – they have many other events too, from photo exhibitions to screening nights.


To get an update of what we are up to as of today (Aug 2nd, 2013), please check out this link.

PRESS: AfriTorial – ‘Where on god’s green earth is Makasutu?’

We just happened across this article, on a website called ‘AfriTorial’ (worth checking out, by the way) – Jason Florio’s award-winning ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest series of large format series of B&W portraits, which he took over 12 years of travelling to The Gambia, West Africa

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A group of young Gambian boys gather on the banks of the River Gambia to bathe at the end of a male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony Kombo Central, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

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Ismaila Denba – young Gambian boat captain blowing cigarette smoke from his nose
Ensa – young Gambian, guide, holding cow head (slaughtered for ‘coming of age’ celebrations)
Myork village, The Gambia, West Africa
Ensa: In the permanent collection of The Haggerty Museum of Art (Marquette University, Milwaukee, USA) © Jason Florio

You can see the whole series on Florio’s website: ‘Makasutu – meccas in the forest’

and there’s the book: ‘Makasutu-mecca in the forest’

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Concern Universal, The Gambia, and the River Gambia Expedition collaboration

On the road to Concern Universal headquarters, Fajara, The Gambia, West Africa © Helen Jones-Florio

A few years ago, Florio services as a photographer were requested by Concern Universal. In exchange for a vehicle and driver, we drove around to various rural Gambian villages to photograph the boys ‘Coming of Age Ceremonies’ called Futanpuf – huge, traditional, tribal, ceremonies to celebrate the boys ‘initiation’ to manhood. The initiation involves male circumcision – still very prevalent here in West Africa. Once the operation has been performed, the boys are taken into the bush to spend some time in isolation. During this time of, they are taught the ways, and responsibilities, of becoming a man.

Whilst making the rounds of the ceremonies for CU, we also managed to fit in some portraits for a personal portrait project which Florio had been working on, during his travels to The Gambia, over many years – ‘Makasutu-mecca in the forest’. Here is one example of a boy who had just come out of the bush for the ceremony:

Young Gambian boy, dressed for male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony – Myork village, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio, 2008

Yet another fortuitous, timely, meeting here in The Gambia – of which, we are happy to say, there have been many – was for us to meet the new Country Director, for CU, Tony Jansen. It just so happened that Tony, his wife, and daughter, were spending the weekend here at our friends, Geri and Maurice’s, place (Sandele Eco Retreat), a couple of weeks ago.

‘Concern Universal helps communities around the world find practical, long term solutions to poverty.’

We chatted with him about what we were doing – the River Gambia Expedition – and mentioned that Florio had shot some stuff for CU a few years back. Tony said that the website could do with updating with new images but that, as with everything these days, budgets were particularly tight. We also asked him if they had any vehicles going down to Guinea (where they have other projects going on) that we could hitch a ride with, with all our gear. And a plan came into fruition…

After Florio and I hastily put together a proposal, mailed it over to Tony back in his office on the Monday morning, and by the middle of the same week, we had our lift to Tambacunda in Senegal – o.k., not to Guinea but well on the way, at least. And, with CU’s ‘Ordre de Mission’ (a kind of official stamped document to travel across borders which NGOs, amongst others, use for easy passage), it means we are sure to cross through at least one boarder post without too much hassle.

From an assignment we did in DR Congo, for micro-finance group FINCA © Jason Florio ‘Village Banking for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo’

In exchange – our whole journey seems to be based on an exchange – for the vehicle and the driver we will provide CU with images for the website, marketing, annual reports etc. – similar to those (example above) we previously provided for FINCA, a micro-finance bank, in DR Congo.

Again, we’ve made many contacts whilst we’ve been waiting for ‘the black box’ - who we may not have met had we left when we should have done, three weeks ago, on the River Gambia Expedition. It gives one further belief in the often over-used (but often justified too) adage: ‘everything happens for a reason’.

Image – courtesy of the Concern Universal website

We’re really looking forward to working with Concern Universal again. Please take a minute to check out what CU do and, as always, if you like what you read about them, please feel free to spread the CU word. They have a FB page too.

Thanks to CU, we’ll be posting more on our imminent departure date during the next couple of days.

Stay tuned!

Thanks for stopping by

The Florios (H & Flo)

New Press: Jason Florio’s ‘Makasutu’ portrait used for The Australian National Opera Company’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘Otello’

A PR company, Chard International, representing the Australian National Opera, contacted us a few months back to ask if they could use one of Florio’s Makasutu portraits – from a series he had taken over a 12 year period when in The Gambia – to advertise the opera ‘Otello’. They ended up choosing the portrait of the ‘Oyster Man’

We’re almost there – a day nearer to trekking and canoeing on our West Africa documentary photography expedition

Gambian woman washes her bowls at the well as horses drink from it – Image © Jason Florio, The Gambia, West Africa, 2012

On our last expedition, in 2009, we walked 930km around the small West African country of The Gambia (which is a country that we both love and seem to be drawn back to, year after year), with two donkeys and a cart – as one does – ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey’. A big part of that journey was staying in a different village each night. That is, once we had asked permission of the village chief – the ‘alkalo’ – a traditional, and very important, protocol that has to be adhered to, out of respect for the chief, his elders and the villagers who hosted us.

Both Florio (Jason) and I have been back and forth to The Gambia for over 15 years now and, over the last four years we have worked together, on capturing his portraits of some of the Gambian people we’ve met along the way. However, Jason has also worked on a long-term project, called Makaautu – mecca in the forest’ of which I have only been fortunate to have worked with him on over these last four years. Here is one of his very first images, from the Makasutu series…from ‘back in the early days’, which I love. We often muse over where these boys – now men – are now. Look at it carefully…check out what a couple of the young Gambian boys are casually holding.

A group of young Gambian boys gather on the banks of the River Gambia to bathe at the end of a male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony, Kombo Central, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Another early days photograph, from the Makasutu series…there’s strength, proudness and knowledge in these women, that you see often. Gambian women are the backbone of the country…keeping everything together – their families, their compounds, harvesting…multi-taskers (and tough taskmasters!), in the truest sense. I wouldn’t argue with these women!

A group of Gambian village elder women, Kombo Central, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

And, one from our time on the road together – we met this man, Dembo, when we were camping in small village, whilst on our ‘Short Walk’. We heard him before we saw him, with his boombox blaring, skanking down the dusty road towards us..he then proceeded to do a little dance for us. It was a job just to get him to stand still, so Florio could take the photo!

Portrait of Gambian man, Dembo Silla playing ‘blues’ from Mali, on his boombox, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio

And, just one more, from the Makasutu series of portraits – one that I’m particularly proud to be part of, after having spotted this wonderful old gentleman, Mr Kujabi, in the crowd – from when we were roaming around the ‘Coming of Age’ ceremonies, in the more rural village of The Gambia, in 2008. And, he was the one who insisted on having his little silver pipe in the photograph!

Kujabi - Gambian farmer, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio

Kujabi – Gambian farmer, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio – 2008

I hope the above images, give you a sense of why we do what we do…and why we can’t wait to get down to West Africa for our River Gambia Expedition – which will take us even further afield, to explore and document, unknown (to us, at least) territories.

We now have only 10 days left to the deadline on Kickstarter – 15th October 2012. If you’d like to support us, there are rewards – Florio’s limited edition fine art photography prints. Please check out the page

Click on image to support our KS page-Deadline 15th Oct. 2012

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. More updates coming very soon – particularly about our pending departure date to West Africa on 16th October!

Helen & Florio

Kickstarter Update-28th Oct: Thanks for all the pledges – we’re over halfway to our target!

© Jason Florio – ‘Ismaila on his white horse, Jumpex’

We can’t thank everyone enough for helping us to get this far – and in such a short space of time – by pledging on our Kickstarter campaign. Amazing!

We are so close to getting on the River Gambia Expedition proper now – down to West Africa to start our documentary photography journey…and bringing back some beautiful images, road stories and interviews.

Thanks hardly seems a big enough word but…


Jason & Helen (The Florios) x

‘River Gambia Expedition – 1000km source to sea African odyssey‘ Expedition Leaders

There is still time to get on board with your pledges for our Kickstarter campaign – check out the rewards you can get too, in exchange for your pledges.

16 days to go!! Please click on the image to view details




The above B&W image and the following image were taken whilst we were driving around the rural areas of The Gambia, West Africa, to the ‘Coming of Age’ (male and female circumcision) ceremonies in 2008. From Florio’s award-winning series of portraits: ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest’.

© Jason Florio – ‘Painted Face’ Young Gambian girl, dressed for female circumcision ceremony



‘Makasutu’ large format B&W Portraits from The Gambia, West Africa, by Jason Florio

‘Makasutu’ Fine Art Photography by Jason Florio

‘Makasutu’ Fine Art Photography by Jason Florio

‘Makasutu’ Fine Art Photography by Jason Florio

‘Makasutu – mecca in the Forest’ © Jason Florio – black and white, large format, portraits taken over a 12 year period of the people who live and work around a sacred forest, Makasutu, in The Gambia, West Africa. floriophoto.com

Fine art photography prints – available to purchase here from the B&W Collection

To see how you can get a fine art print from the River Gambia Expedition 2012 – please watch Jason Florio explain all on Vimeo (click on image to view):

Here’s what else we get up to in West Africa: Jason Florio’s award-winning series of portraits – ‘Makasutu’

Ismaila on his white horse, Junpex – The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio 2008

Jason Florio’s series of black and white portraits, taken over a period of 12 years, resulted in ‘Makasutu – mecca in the forest’ – a book and and an award-winning body of work.

These are just a few of the portraits that we worked on together, whilst staying at Makasutu Culture Forest and travelling around the villages, in The Gambia, West Africa, to see the male and female ‘coming of age’ ceremonies.

L-R: Ousman Kujabi – young Gambian, dressed for male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony Lamin Saidy – young Gambian driver, Kombo Central, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio 2008

Young Gambian boy, dressed for male circumcision (‘coming of age’) ceremony, Myork village, The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio 2008


As always, thanks for stopping by. More news on the ‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’ coming soon.

The Florios (H & Flo)







Jason Florio’s portrait of ‘Abdou, with rescued crocodile’ wins ‘Black & White Spider Awards’, 2012,

Florio received very exciting news this weekend, from the Black & White Spider Awards, 2012 team, to inform him that his image of ‘Abdou with Rescued Crocodile’, taken in The Gambia, West Africa, was a winner in the ‘Portrait’ category.

‘BLACK AND WHITE SPIDER AWARDS is the leading international award honoring excellence in black and white photography’

“It is an incredible achievement to be selected among the best from the 8,223 entries we received this year,” said Basil O’Brien, the awards Creative Director. Jason Florio’s ‘Abdou with Rescued Crocodile’ an exceptional image entered in the ‘Portrait’ category, represents black and white photography at its finest, and we’re pleased to present him with the title of ‘Honor of Distinction’ “

Abdou with Crocodile, The Gambia, West Africa

‘Abdou with Rescued Crocodile’ The Gambia, West Africa © Jason Florio
Taken from the award-winning series of B&W portraits: ‘Makasutu’

‘Abdou with rescued crocodile’ The Gambia, West Africa
“The portrait of Abdou is part of a long term project , now in it’s 15th year, based around a sacred forest in The Gambia, West Africa called Makasutu. In 2008, Abdou arrived at the forest with a live crocodile which he was going to sell for meat. I asked him if I could buy it, but first I wanted to make a portrait of him. He sold me the crocodile and we released it back into the river”. Jason Florio

Winner: Black & White Spider Awards 2012 ‘The Black & White Spider Awards nominees and winners are selected by Members of the Jury. Images are judged on the basis of artistic merit, originality, subject and style…Judged by the most respected names in photography’

The Judges, 2012:

Black & White Spider Awards 2012 Judges

Black & White Spider Awards 2012 – ‘Judged by the most respected names in photography’ – Including ‘TATE’, ‘National Geographic’ & ‘Bonhams’

Coincidentally, Abdou is also on our expedition team this year. He is not only a great friend but an experienced River Gambia fisherman, who speaks a number of the West African languages we will come across, whilst on the journey – including Wolof, Mandinka and Serer. With his local knowledge of the river and tribes who live and work along the length of the River Gambia, he will also be our chief fixer.

The winning image is also part of Florio’s Fine Art Photography Prints B&W Gallery Collection, on the website.

Well done, Mr Florio!

Helen x

Please click on the image below to watch Jason Florio as he explains how you can own one of his fine art photography prints, from a series of images he will take whilst on the River Gambia Expedition 2012: