A Journey from France to the River Maroni: An interview/ photo essay with William Barylo

Tommy Evans meets fellow postgraduate researcher and creative William Barylo to discuss his photographic documentary chronicling the lives and culture of the Bushinengue people, descendants of African slaves who fought for their freedom and escaped from plantation grounds to the banks of the River Maroni. In particular, conversation focuses on the deleterious impact of colonialism and consumerism on this minority group in French Guiana, South America, and how the Bushinengue are once more fighting for their freedom and future.

Tommy Evans: I usually start my interviews by asking who are you, where do you come from and how did you get here.

William Barylo: That’s a complex question. My name is William and I believe I come from many places at the same time. Although I was born and raised in France, my parents are Polish and now I’m living in London, so I feel like I have a mixed identity, not even talking about all the people I’ve met during my travels.

TE: What took you to French Guiana?

WB: Some friends told me about an ethnic minority group living there, the Bushinengue, who I’d never heard of. After a quick search in the French media, I still couldn’t find any information about them. At this time, I was starting to do photography and wanted to do some projects; I thought that, well, if no one has done this before, then who? I decided to raise funds and get into French Guiana to see how these people live and try to take back all my experiences to France. It was a very simple project to begin with.

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TE: For those who are unacquainted with French Guiana perhaps you could expand upon its location and relationship to France to provide a historical and geographical backdrop to your own journey.

WB: Okay. So, French Guiana is a French district located in South America, north of Brazil next to Suriname and Guyana [formerly Dutch and British Guiana, respectively]. It was a French colony that has been turned into a proper French district -

TE: A bit like La Reunion, right? [a tiny island in the Indian Ocean near Mauritius].

WB: Exactly. So meaning that in every town in French Guiana you have a post office, a city council and a police station – anything you could find in any continental French town. French Guiana lived off slavery for many centuries and now, besides tourism, the main activity is the European Space Centre, which launched the Ariane rocket.

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