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The Leap, by Stuart Freedman

1 August 2021

I made this photograph on assignment for Conde Nast Traveller Magazine several years ago. When the (then) Director of Photography, Caroline Metcalfe called me and asked if I’d like to photograph a story in São Tome and Principé, my answer was not immediately ‘yes’ but ‘where?’. As I soon discovered, this tiny but devastatingly beautiful African nation comprises two volcanic islands that lie off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. Originally a port for slavers, the islands’ independence had been secured (unusually peacefully) from Portugal in 1975.

The story centred around eco-tourism and for much of the work I found myself happily trotting through forested regions and bumping along rough tracks stopping at villages where I tried out my very poor (read almost non-existent) Portuguese much to the hilarity of all involved.

The image came on the second day of shooting on the smaller island of Principé, reached by a fifty-minute flight on a small, (rather shaky for my liking) propeller aeroplane. As I walked around the bay in the capital, Santo António, I could just make out some boys jumping off a tiny (and broken) pier. I hadn’t yet made a frame that day and one always gets a little nervous that pictures aren’t going to come. Especially in such a beautiful place. I double checked the exposure and as I moved closer, I decided to shoot the thing quite simply on a 50mm and try and make something that would fit a double page spread.

I didn’t want to lurk on a long zoom and neither did I want to disturb the kids on a wide-angle lens that would have inevitably altered the scene by my closeness. Only one boy clambered back onto the pier and then dripping, decided to jump straight back into the clear water without looking in my direction. I composed quickly, ‘anchoring’ (sorry) the frame slightly off centre using the cross as a guide. I made sure that I had plenty of sky either side to let the picture ‘breathe’ - or for the inevitable text. This was the first and only frame that I made before his friends turned up and insisted, quite rightly, on being in the picture. I spent the next fifteen minutes shooting the kids jumping into the water in a variety of ways, but nothing worked as well or as graphically as the spontaneity of the first frame. It’s often the way. It’s why I often try to shoot first and see what happens later: the world moves very quickly and if you miss it, it’s gone.

Stuart Freedman is a photographer, writer and mentor and has been a photographer since 1991. His work has been published in amongst others, Life, Geo, Time, Der Spiegel, Newsweek, The Sunday Times Magazine and Paris Match covering stories from Albania to Afghanistan and from former Yugoslavia to Haiti. He is a member of Panos Pictures.

Freedman's books, Clearing For Peace (2007), The Palaces of Memory (2015) and The Englishman and the Eel (2017) are available here. Stuart Freedman also offers a mentoring service for photographers - more information here.

See more work by Stuart Freedman

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