Former Mount Coffee Hydroelectric Station, Arthrington, Liberia

This image is representative of what happened to Liberia during the period 1989 to 2003, where the country effectively died as a modern state. In July 1990, rebel forces under the command of Charles Taylor reached Liberia’s largest power station, the Mount Coffee plant, shutting off electricity and water to Monrovia. In the civil conflict that followed, the plant was looted and every non-structural element was taken, depriving the capital city of grid electricity until 2005.

This is the former main hall of the plant. It once housed three turbines (located in the three large wells sunk into the floor), and produced 64MW of electrical power (about 1/16 of the power of a single typical European coal plant). Local people told us that men arrived with the necessary equipment to remove the large turbines and put them on lorry. It is believed they were taken to Ghana, where one can only speculate what happened to them.

It was a sobering experience being in the great hulk of the former power station, a strange feeling like we were engaged in some kind of recent human archaeology. Our Liberian friend, a tough man, found it very shocking. He’d never seen the power plant before, but was old enough to remember the days when the plant was functioning, and Liberia was a different land.

Technique: the challenge of the shot was to capture the internal shadow detail whilst not completely burning out the foliage in the world beyond the giant window (in order to still convey a sense of the power plant’s location in the rural landscape). It was the middle of the tropical day, the worst time for photography, so post-production focused on manipulating exposure, contrast and saturation, then burning in the foreground (particularly the first well), and dodging the brighter left half of the image together with the green foliage in the distance, to achieve a more realistic impression of what is seen as one enters this sad, but still impressive, space.