Jason Florio | Facing Mogadishu

In April 2011 I spent two days in Mogadishu, a city that was being held hostage by the Al Shabaab, militant Islamists forces. The Somali government was impotent against the hardline fanatics, and although I was under the protection of the Somali army we were pinned down in a small compound while mortars and small arms fire rained around us –making it impossible to get beyond the walls to photograph daily life in Mogadishu. By September Al Shabaab had made a tactical retreat to the outskirts of Mogadishu and I knew this was my opportunity to return. I was able to quietly move around town in an unremarkable Subaru with two gunmen to photograph the destruction and daily grind of life in a city that has been without peace for over 20 years.

When we could find a secure location I set up my semi-translucent background cloth. I not only wanted to make reportage images but to bring people face to face with the individuals that live and survive in Mogadishu through intimate portraits. With food and water in desperately short supply, thousands of people rely on the ‘wet’ feeding kitchens, but the situation was exacerbated by the influx of internally displaced people from southern Somalia converging on Mogadishu, to escape the hardline Al Shabaab and a devastating drought - land that was empty in Mogadishu in April was filled by September with tent cities packed with mainly women and children baking in the Somali heat. But despite the biblical devastation and hardships, Mogadishu was coming back to life. People were moving back into their old neighborhoods that had only weeks before been frontlines. Piles of furniture and mattresses were being ferried around town by men with long barrows and donkey carts, and there was hint of defiance in the air. But anyone that lives in Mogadishu knows well that such lulls could be violently broken. Not long after I left, a massive car bomb exploded at the KM4 intersection where I had passed through each day, killing over 100 people including one from a maize mill close by where I had photographed.

Jason Floro

  Jason Florio

Jason Florio (b.1965) has worked as a freelance photographer and writer for over 12 years, focusing on under reported stories about people living on the margins of society and in places of conflict around the world. He has won a number of international awards and his work has been widely published in newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, The Virginia Quarterly Review and Newsweek. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and will be embarking on an expedition at the end of 2012, by foot and canoe to document the people and culture along the 1130km River Gambia, one of Africa’s last major free-flowing river.