Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Liberia comes alive in these clever animated GIFs

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Francois Beaurain is trying to create a new image for Liberia with his vibrant GIFs. Above is titled 'Child Soldier'.
Courtesy François Beaurain
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Photographer creates GIFs of Monrovia, in Liberia
  • French photographer Francis Beaurain moved to Monrovia to live with his girlfriend
  • He found the capital unlike the harsh images represented on Google
  • He celebrates everyday life with his animated GIFs

Editor's note: If you're reading this article on a mobile, you can see the animated GIFs here or view the still images here.

(CNN) -- French photographer Francois Beaurain knew virtually nothing of Monrovia when he followed his girlfriend, a humanitarian worker, to the Liberian capital.

"I was not even able to put Monrovia or Liberia on a map. So, like everybody, I started to Google it," he confesses. The search results did not paint a pretty picture of the country: images that popped up were mainly of civil war, blood diamonds, and child soldiers.

"It looks like a nightmare, like hell on earth. It's a very bad marketing job," says Beaurain. When he arrived, he admits he was "not scared, but worried," though he soon found the city was a much friendlier place than Google let on.

"I quickly realized it's really rather nice," he says. "It's one of the safest countries in Africa. There's a big discrepancy between what is really the country and its image internationally."

Addressing this disparity, Beaurain launched Monrovia Animated, a series of GIFs that aims to capture the city's lighter side. Though the settings in some of these looped animations show the scars of Liberia's civil war (the once five-star Ducor Intercontinental Hotel, which today stands empty, is a regular backdrop), Beaurain's films also feature smiling, upbeat locals.

"I don't always have a plan. A lot of the time, I go around the city and meet people. It's just about having fun and creating some magic," he says.

'Swept Out'
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Monrovia Falls'.
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Beauty Salon'
Courtesy François Beaurain

Though many of the city's residents recognize him now, he admits that finding subjects had its challenges in the beginning, particularly because most assumed he was a foreign reporter looking to exploit their image.

"The moment they see you have a camera, they think you're a journalist and will bring the photo back to America to make money from it," he says. To put his subjects at ease, Beaurain made a point of returning with the GIF on a smartphone, both to prove that the image would stay in Liberia, and to demonstrate his concept.

"They don't always understand that day why I want them to run, but if they don't get it on the spot, they get it a few days later when I come back with the phone."

'Ducor Hotel 5th floor'
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Old shack'.
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Thief and Cop'
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Former French Embassy'
Courtesy François Beaurain
'Starfish'
Courtesy François Beaurain

The digital format also appeals to Beaurain, partly because he finds Africa is underrepresented, both as a theme in digital art, and as a source of it.

Read: Turning weapons into art in Liberia

For Beaurain, an important aspect of the project is showing that Liberia is capable of creating powerful, thought-provoking digital works. Since moving to Monrovia, the local culture has inspired a number of other projects, too, including collages made from Nollywood posters and sculptures made from decommissioned AK-47s from the country's civil war.

Mainly, though, Beaurain wants to update the version of Liberia currently making the rounds on the internet.

"Honestly, the goal of this is that maybe in a few months, or a few years, when people stop to Google Liberia or Monrovia, they will find my GIFs, instead of images of child soldiers," he says. "Maybe it's a little bit ambitious, but that's the target."

Read: Stunning photos of savannah from a bird's-eye view

Read: Africa's most exciting photographers

Read: Heavy metal, Botswana style

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:37 AM EDT, Fri June 27, 2014
lake retba, senegal
On the edge of Senegal's Cap Vert peninsula, a lush coastal region, lies Lake Retba ... a coral pink lake.
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Meet the Rolling Rockets, the skate soccer team made up of polio survivors.
updated 6:09 AM EDT, Mon May 5, 2014
Italian photographer Marco Casino spent a month capturing 'staff riders', or train surfers, in Katlehong, a South African township about 20 miles southeast of Johannesburg.
A group of South African youths have taken up the deadly sport of train surfing. For them, it's a shot at redemption.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the oldest people on Earth. Today, they battle for land, and continued survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 6:59 AM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
updated 6:17 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
updated 6:50 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Unhappy with Liberia's image on the Internet, a photographer decided to present his own view, using GIFs.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 6:30 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Vintage clothes are proving a hit with fashionistas across Africa, as retro goes back to the future.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.
ADVERTISEMENT