Denis Fraser reporting of his photo work from the jungle in Sierra Leone.


These shots were taken in Sierra Leone in West Africa. There are many secret societies I am in the process of photographing as many as I can gain access to which is difficult and to be honest...quite risky! The warriors in the shot are the fearsome- Timne. I used both the Speed Graphic and Nikon F3 35mm with Nikkor 50mm F1.4 [Nikon loaded with the only film available there Fuji Colour neg 100].The shoot took place around 1500 hrs and the light was bright and strong with a cloudless sky. I used an 77mm 4 ND filter [thanks to your excellent design Jo!] so I could shoot wide open at f2.5 Shutter speed was 1000. I used three Grafmatic film holders which proved to be a problem as the slide film had swollen due to the high humidity in West Africa and had jammed and ruined some of the film. I unloaded the remaining film after a number of failures and used a darkroom tent to swap film into the standard double darkslide type. During changing, inside of the bag became vary hot as the outside temp was around 38c+. My hands were so moist that on my next trip I will take vinyl gloves! There are some other really vicious societies in West Africa. So it might be an idea to shoot the whole lot next time I am there. Getting some of these groups on film will be interesting challenge as the societies were banned by the British because of cannibalism in the early 1930's

Even though I am ex-military I know the photographs are quite disturbing and I must admit it was difficult to absorb the scene while shooting. The 35mm shots I took are much more graphic. I didn't post any of these to you as its not relevant to the site.

I am a negotiator and some years ago I introduced a mining company to Sierra Leone. I was scouting for Iron Ore Reserves and visited various locations deep in the bush. I met with the locals and hired a guide to ensure I adhered to local custom. I was introduced to the Chief of the Council of Chief's who was open to investment proposals. I later represented his Chiefdom during negotiations with the Mining Company and the Government. I briefed the Mining Co on Corporate Responsibility and incorporated the locals wishes. The Mining Co then built schools, hospitals, many water wells even before they began work.. This took a number of years and is ongoing as the project is extensive. During my time in the bush I was lucky enough to gain the respect of a number of Secret Societies. Gradually I broached the (taboo) subject of making photographs of rituals. The leading members finally agreed after many sacrifices and libation.

I held back on the shooting until I was happy with the right camera and lens combination. I decided that Aero/Graphic would be well suited to the task. I eventually acquired a decent lens and camera. Thankfully I came across your site and the excellent mount you have designed! The speed graphic is still fairly portable even with the large lens fitted. An essential feature of your system [in my opinion] is filter mount, with such a fast lens particularly in bright equatorial sunlight its really useful to be able to fit ND filters and a polariser. One of the problems with shooting in high humidity and heat is the film emulsion swells quite considerably. I ruined quite a lot of film during the shoot due to the dark slide catching on the edge of the film, particularly with the colour slide film due to its thicker emulsion layer. This is the beginning of a series of photo essays on the the various aspects of secret societies in West Africa I a returning next month to undertake the first shoots of Poro Men.

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