"If you don’t know where you came from, how can you know where you are going?”
I had the privilege of attending a screening of Liberia ’77 recently. It documents the return of two brothers, Andrew and Jeff Topham to Liberia, thirty years after living there as children. They grew up as expatriates due to their father working for Exchem, a Canadian manufacturer of mining explosives. The Topham family lived in Charlesville, a small village, for three years and left prior to civil war ravaging the country. Upon moving back to Canada they became known as the kids who grew up in Africa. Time spent in Liberia made a distinct impression: memories of a vibrant community, the beloved housekeeper James, their pet chimpanzee Evelyn and the freedom to run amok in nature.
It was these memories coupled with a large volume of photographs that their father took that prompted the desire to return to the West African country. Originally there was two main ideas behind the trip: they were going to try and find James or recreate their dad’s photographs, to do before and after shots of each. However things evolved when an unexpected individual turns up and leads the documentary in a different direction. (trailer embedded below)
Liberia '77 is well made, poignant without being depressing and captures the strength and humour of the Liberian people. It explores how photography has become part of cultural identity and how the people of Liberia rebuilt their lives after two devastating civil wars.
Most of the images of Liberia's peaceful past were lost and in an effort to help rebuild memories and images of the pre war country, the Tophams have set up a project. "Many lost all their images and have no way to look back on happier times. Many fled Liberia at the last minute, leaving all their belongings behind. Your photos might contain people and places other long to see again. Your photos can help heal." If you have photographs of pre war Liberia please upload them here. There will be an upcoming exhibit at the National Museum in Monrovia consisting of images submitted.
Click on the link below to watch the film in full (watch now tab):
To learn more about the film and project in full: