Chris O'Dell Photographs

Ethiopia, the Roof of Africa

  Ethiopia - the roof of 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 heartbreaking.
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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