Chris O'Dell Photographs
Ethiopia, the Roof of the Africa
The Roof of Africa
Through the winter of 1992/3 I was
employed by Channel 4 television to be the director of photography on
an ambitious television series called “The Big Batallions”.
The theme was the clash of the 3 major monotheistic religions,
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. We filmed 6 hours of drama and
action entirely on locations in the UK, in Israel, and in Ethiopia.
The series starred Brian Cox and Jane Lapotaire. The series was well
received but never achieved the international sales required by the
accountants in London, although I eventually received a BAFTA
nomination for best fiction film photography. (That is another story!)
We arrived in Addis Ababa very
shortly after the end of the civil war had ended; in fact the streets
of the capital were littered with the remnants of tanks and other
military hardware. The ruins of the great ammunition dump on the
outskirts of Addis were still smoking after the huge explosion that had
cost so many lives.
Ethiopia is an incredibly beautiful
country, but was totally impoverished at the time, having come through
years of conflict. The capital was crammed with equipment, medical
supplies, and aid agencies, mostly paid for from the pockets of the
people who had supported the famous charity concerts that had been held
in the west. There was no way of getting most of this material to the
people who needed it; there was no infrastructure to deal with it. The
stuff was just rotting in the streets and in various dumps around the
city. I found a brand new American helicopter decaying in a crate
by the side of one of the missions. There were lines of huge white
Mercedes trucks, all with flat tyres, brought up from the coast by
rail, never to move again. The extent of the excessive waste was
Addis Ababa is build in the middle of
a huge range of mountains, and is already 9,000 feet above sea level.
The mountains rise around the city; they are sometimes called the roof
of Africa. This photograph was taken in the mountains; the dramatic
effect of the erosion can be seen in the distance. The people in the
picture possessed nothing but what they stood up in, a blanket and a
cloth to wind round the head. The fighting had charged through their
villages and land, killing civilians and livestock. The day before
this photograph was taken I had inadvertently walked through an
abandoned minefield, where several of the villagers had been maimed and
their animals killed. I could see people in the distance waving
furiously to me, but I assumed that they were just being friendly.
Camera: Bronica ETRS Zenzanon 50mm f/2.8 film stock Ektachrome).
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