The View from Freetown

An interview with the Danish photographer Kim Thue about his work in Sierra Leone's capital.

All Images: Kim Thue.

When I spoke to Danish photographer Kim Thue, he had been working on his ‘Freetown Fifty’ project for around 6 months already, and in March he is going back to finish his work. Thue (born in 1980) grew up in a small town in Jutland, Denmark. Since 1998 he has been living in England and in 2006 he achieved a BA Honors in Editorial Photography from Brighton University. He currently lives in East London with his girlfriend and their cat. AIAC got an interview with Thue and permission to exclusively show a selection of his pictures.

Where in Freetown are the pictures taken?

I had heard about a notoriously rough and dangerous area in the slums, not commonly visited by Westerners. I won’t mention the name of the area here, but that’s where I went and that’s where it all started.  What I found was a lot of especially young people living on the edge of society in very deprived conditions. Some were unemployed teenage mothers, some were ex-child soldiers, some were drug dealers, some were addicts and some were alcoholics. Most in one form or another had been traumatized by the war. All were good people.

In fact, given the country’s difficult recent history, the people I met there, all had an admirable love of living in the moment. This immediacy was a joy to work with as a photographer and something on reflection I feel the images undoubtedly benefited from.

Many of the pictures are very gloomy, do you think they represent a truthful view of Sierra Leone?

No, they simply represent fragments of things I encountered. Photography in my opinion is always subjective and has very little resemblance to reality or truth.

All photographers see what they want to see and I’m no exception to this.

I wouldn’t necessarily call my images gloomy though. Empathetic and raw perhaps. People sometimes give me stick for “making things look worse than they really are,” and for working against those who are trying to make a positive change in people’s perceptions of the country.  Well, in my eyes Sierra Leone still has a long way to go and I think my audience is smart enough to differentiate between these personal observations and visual material for the Sierra Leonean tourist board catalog.

You are going back to Sierra Leone this spring to finish your project. What is your ultimate goal with the photos?

Yes, I’m going back to Freetown for 3 months in March. This year marks the country’s 50th year of independence from British colonial rule, hence the title “Freetown Fifty”, and I’m hoping that this occasion will draw heightened attention to the country from the outside world.

My aim is to create a photographic book of my images. I’ve had a few meetings with various people in the industry, but nothing has been finalized yet and I’m currently searching for a publisher interested in getting behind the project.

Which story do you wish to tell through the pictures?

With ‘Freetown Fifty’ I don’t have a clear story to tell, a hidden political agenda or a specific humanitarian issue to pinpoint. The work is simply a sequenced accumulation of personal urban tragedies, vulnerable integrity and profound chance encounters. Something I hope the viewer can tune into emotionally, something that hits a nerve without being conceived as coercive in nature.



Further Reading

A power crisis

Andre De Ruyter, the former CEO of Eskom, has presented himself as a simple hero trying to save South Africa’s struggling power utility against corrupt forces. But this racially charged narrative is ultimately self-serving.

Cinematic universality

Fatou Cissé’s directorial debut meditates on the uncertain fate and importance of Malian cinema amidst the growing dismissiveness towards the humanities across the world.

The meanings of Heath Streak

Zimbabwean cricketing legend Heath Streak’s career mirrors many of the unresolved tensions of race and class in Zimbabwe. Yet few white Zimbabwean sporting figures are able to stir interest and conversation across the nation’s many divides.


After winning Italy’s Serie A with Napoli, Victor Osimhen has cemented his claim to being Africa’s biggest footballing icon. But is the trend of individual stardom good for sports and politics?

Breaking the chains of indifference

The significance of ending the ongoing war in Sudan cannot be overstated, and represents more than just an end to violence. It provides a critical moment for the international community to follow the lead of the Sudanese people.

The magic man

Chris Blackwell’s long-awaited autobiography shows him as a romantic rogue; a risk taker whose life compass has been an open mind and gift to hear and see slightly into the future.

How to think about colonialism

Contemporary approaches to the legacy of colonialism tend to narrowly emphasize political agency as the solution to Africa’s problems. But agency is configured through historically particular relations of which we are not sole authors.

More than just a flag

South Africa’s apartheid flag has been declared hate speech by a top court. But while courts are important and their judgments matter, racism is a long and internationally entrenched social phenomenon that cannot be undone via judicial processes.

Resistance is a continuous endeavor

For more than 75 years, Palestinians have organized for a liberated future. Today, as resistance against Israeli apartheid intensifies, unity and revolutionary optimism has become the main infrastructure of struggle.

Paradise forgotten

While there is much to mourn about the passing of legendary American singer and actor Harry Belafonte, we should hold a place for his bold statement-album against apartheid South Africa.

The two Africas

In the latest controversies about race and ancient Egypt, both the warring ‘North Africans as white’ and ‘black Africans as Afrocentrists’ camps find refuge in the empty-yet-powerful discourse of precolonial excellence.