PHOTO: "For a few glorious minutes, everything was forgotten and the mood was ecstatic." Greg Funnell captures a moment in Sierra Leone | ActionAid UK

Greg Funnell


ActionAid photographer Greg Funnell tells the story behind his photograph of Sarah Alexander with children in Sierra Leone.

British TV personality Sarah Alexander blows bubbles with the children of Blamawo community, Bo District
British TV personality Sarah Alexander blows bubbles with the children of Blamawo community, Bo District

How did you capture this picture?

The image was taken at the end of the first full day in Sierra Leone with Sarah and the ActionAid team. There had been a lot to take in, a lot of stories to listen to, a lot of grief to be absorbed.

This moment occurred as were leaving the final village that we had visited that day. The sun was starting to go down, casting a lovely golden light.

When Sarah produced the bubbles there was a lot of excitement from the kids — for a few glorious minutes, everything was forgotten and the mood was ecstatic. There was a real energy in the air from the children and the adults in the village.

I like this picture because I feel it communicates a small sense of that; there's a palpable feeling of lightness, joy, and optimism.   

Can you describe how you took this photo?

This image was shot on 50mm lens, with a shutter speed of 1/125th and the lens aperture at f/2.8 (ISO 160). I used a lens with a narrow depth of field to really focus the image on the action.

How did you become a photographer?

For me photography grew out of a natural curiosity for the world. I've always been interested in places, people and how things work.

Photography has given me an excuse to ask questions, to look a little deeper, and in doing so to try and understand things. The challenge then is to communicate that information, those stories, through the images.

Tell us about a memorable moment in your career

The first time I saw my work published was pretty memorable. I was away on a trip and I was standing in a shop in Hong Kong with a magazine in my hand seeing my images in print. It seemed amazing that they had this reach.

Of course the internet makes this much more attainable these days, but to me that made me realise its importance — there's a responsibility there. That's especially true when you're telling other people's stories. I see it as privilege to be able to do so.

Have there been any low points in your career?

It can be hard working on stories that are harrowing — coming back and trying to explain that to people that just don't ‘get it’. There can be a certain sense of guilt too, of being able to hop on plane and get away from somewhere. 

Which photographers do you admire?

I grew up being inspired by the great photojournalists. That role I think these days is evolving and changing into someone who is an all round visual storyteller.

Somebody who I think really understood that more than most was Tim Hetherington — his death in Libya was a huge loss not only to the photographic community, but to the media as a whole.

Where he was going with his work will forever remain a bit of a mystery, but from what was finished it is clear that he was pioneering ideas whilst still maintaining his core identity and beliefs. I find that immensely inspirational. 

Do you have any tips for aspiring photographers?

The only way to truly learn something is to do it. And in this respect the first step is the hardest, but if you find your way in and then work at it with a strong passion and strong principles then you'll find your way.  

Greg travelled to Sierra Leone with Sarah Alexander as part of ActionAid’s #Rebuild campaign, to see how people are rebuilding their lives after civil war.