The Chronicle Gambia

The Art of Story Telling in Photography: Meet Isatou Jallow, The Gambian Photographer Empowering Women with Her Portraits

For women to work in a male-dominated professions or occupations is often seen as abnormal and carries a huge stereotypes in The Gambia. It comes with a big challenge for women who insist to follow their passions due to deep-rooted cultural barriers which restrict them from exploring such fields. Photography is no exception as newsrooms and private photographic entities across the country are filled with men to do the work. This is the situation a young, determined Isatou Elitesha Jallow is trying to change through her photographic skills, not just for herself but by also telling success stories of other women in different fields through critical and relevant pictures. 

She recently held her first photo exhibition where she featured several amazing women who defied all odds and broken barriers by creating headways in different male-dominated fields such as auto-mechanic. 

“It’s my passion for telling stories and bringing insights to things that people don’t mostly concentrate on,” Isatou, 23, told The Chronicle.

Isatou Elitesha Jallow

Her motive is to change the narrative and give photography a new outlook, particularly how women are viewed in society. To her, photography is way beyond just taking pictures.

When Isatou identified her career, she started following experienced photographers where she picked up bits and pieces that are required in the job back in 2017.

“What inspired me to do photography is how I am able to bring out my thoughts in pictures and how I am able to impact on people’s lives,” she said.

Photography has long been a male dominated industry in The Gambia, be it in newsrooms, or those who established studios as private entities. According to Isatou, that belief does not suit the 21st Century ideals as she has started seeing positive impacts from her work. 

“It impacts on my life greatly in the sense that I am able to be the voice or be a picture when people think about photography, especially female photography in the country.”

Isatou taken photos

In September 2019, Isatou launched her first ever photo exhibition premised on the theme: “Redefine: Defying the Odds.” This was meant to celebrate women she believes have defied all odds to put their names on the map. The photo exhibition featured some prominent young women including Jama Jack, Juka Lion Darboe, Aminata Njie among others. She described them as ‘industrious, resourceful and inspirational’ women, some of whom are working in male-dominated fields – defying stereotypes. 

“When I started this project, what really inspired me was to change the narrative of what we see about women especially when it comes to photography. Most of the things we see is just people portraying the beauty of women. These women I featured today individually inspired me a lot as a woman,” said Isatou.

According to her, this is just the beginning as she intends to feature many other women who are doing amazing things in their respective corners; to shine a light and tell their stories through the art of photography.

Juka Lion Darboe

“Being part of this photo exhibition actually empowered me a lot. I am glad Isatou chose me to be part of these great women and I am even more grateful in being able to contribute to the inspiration of other young women,” Juka Lion Darboe, one of those featured, told The Chronicle.

Jama Jack

Her mentor, Jama Jack, also featured in the exhibition who described Isatou’s talent as a rare one among young girls in the country. “I’m glad that she is using her talent to showcase the work and journeys of women in this country. I’m deeply honored to be featured in this first exhibition project, along with other incredible women who’re breaking the barriers and leading change. I can’t wait to see what she unleashes next,” she said of Isatou.

Aminata Njie is a mechanic student, another male-dominated sector in the country. Isatou’s project has strengthened her hope for a better future for young Gambian women. She asserted that women should be at liberty to choose the career path they desire and not allow their gender to limit their potentials. “I proved them wrong [those who stereotypes her] and here I am still pursuing my dream,” young mechanic woman told The Chronicle.  

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