Dead Traffic explores the city of Freetown in Sierra Leone through the black and white analogue camera of Kim Thue. A visual assault of a crumbling existence, the city is dilapidated and riddled with graffiti, mirroring the scars and tattoos of its inhabitants. Punctuating the story are images of an eagle caught, the promise of a meal, held down by rocks on his wings. It’s perhaps emblematic of the brutal reality that Kim Thue paints of Sierra Leone: no one, not even a bird, gets to fly.
The photos are up-close and personal, confronting us with a woman’s swollen black eye, her skin lightly scrawled in ink with a heart above her heart, a cross on her arm. The word ‘Mary’ appears in a semi-cursive chicken-scratch text beneath the cross – but with the blurred lettering, could just as easily be ‘Vary’ or ‘Nary’. Any option seems possible.
Another woman wears a Chanel tank top, a shirtless man displays the logo Joe Boxer on the elastic band above his belt-line. These brands seem out of place, ironic by nature in a place like this. They speak to the universality of submission to consumerism, and simultaneously help to make the people of Sierra Leone more accessible to us, as well as impossibly remote. A man extends his hand towards the camera, the palm blackened. The focus rests on his upper arm, so it’s impossible to see what’s in his blurred hand – is he holding something, or is his flesh burned black? There’s gratefulness to be found in not knowing the answer.
Printed on a slightly off-white matte paper, the grainy images are given almost a newspaper feeling. They’re desperate and raw, dark and painful.
The photos are followed by an insightful interview with the photographer. Dead Traffic is available as a numbered, limited edition book from a print run of 1000. It’s available for sale on the dienacht Publishing web site.
Reviewed by Katherine Oktober Matthews.