Glenna Gordon is an American photographer working in Africa, for the past year and a half in Liberia on a project she calls "Broken Promises".
“So much was promised to Liberians during a period of prosperity in the early 1970s and 1980s,” Glenna says – none of which was delivered during nearly two decades of conflict. She’s “photographing those spaces where you can still see remnants of the potential this country once had.”
One of those places is the Ducor Hotel, a onetime four-star resort that sits atop the highest hill in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital city. During war, hundreds who had left rural areas for the seeming safety of the capital, lived in the abandoned resort. A handful of them still live there, with Nigerian peacekeepers.
Glenna sent two pictures of the hundreds she’s made during a couple months. She says, “It feels as much like archaeology as photojournalism.’
“The emptied pool is especially interesting to me. I've attached two photos of the pool, taken on very different days and with very different looks. I can't decide which one I like more, and which one better tells the story of an abandoned space that is still used by a handful of people.”
Here are the pictures:
For me, the clear favorite is the horizontal photo. As always, the first experience of looking at a photograph is being aware of how my eye travels through the photograph. With the horizontal photo, I start with the kids in the pool, go to the figures on the balcony, then to the river on the far left and then go from details of the pool to the hotel to the tree. It’s a dynamic, fully engaged experience with many triangles that take you into and around the photograph.
With the vertical, I go first to the yellow shirt and then the balcony on the right and then the wall to the left of the men. None of those elements is hugely rewarding. From there, it’s a scan to find something significant to lock onto but my eye just roves without further reward.
Conveying a sense of past grandeur and putting the place in context are critical, as you said. The vertical photo doesn’t do that as well, all you can see is the beat up pool without knowing what it’s connected to or where it sits.
Size may play a factor in how we can read the two photos. If the images were large, we could see the men in the vertical photo better and may have a sense from them. Maybe.
I took the liberty of looking at more pictures on your site, Glenna. I like the way you make pictures. It’s not conventional. Some of them are downright painterly - in the vein of the Hudson Valley painters. The last picture in the Dacor gallery is particularly sweet.
I would suggest getting closer to people in the hotel, that you befriend a family and spend some time with them, to overcome the camera consciousness and make pictures that show a quality of life in the resort. The intimacy that could come from those pictures would be the yang to the yin of former luxury and the more stark sense of place photos.