TAT Inspiring Youth: Baldezz: Breaking Gender Barriers & Redefining Sports Photography in The Gambia

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Sarjo Baldeh

By: ML Drammeh

From the dusty streets of Farato to the pinnacle of African Football with gigantic dreams of covering the FIFA World Cup, startling young Gambian photographer Sarjo Baldeh has defied the gender impediment in the industry, redefining sports photography in the country and telling stories by capturing images that attract International attention. 

In the past 12 months, she has evolved from a virtually unknown figure in the industry into the national spotlight: from widespread applause from AFCON to bracing up as one of the final three shortlisted nominees for the National Youth Parliament Youth of the Year award, which will be announced tonight.

Sarjo Baldeh gained a name in the industry when she attended the Africa Cup of Nations in the Ivory Coast with spectacular pictures. The young lady does not have to use a pen or microphone to report or tell a story; she has a tool —a camera lens to capture stunning images — a craft in which she excels.

The 22-year-old, in addition to her role as the official photographer for local team Fortune Football Club, is the new official photographer for the West African Football Union Zone A, an appointment that she deserved.

The Beginning of Her Photography Journey

Sarjo — who also studied construction —photography career started lighting up in 2015 when she was 15 years old in her 9th grade. She was lucky to be part of Starfish International, which annually houses volunteers from different countries. While attending the program in the summer of 2015, Baldez began taking pictures, a move on the ground that would fuel her appetite and create shining paths for her in her professional career.

“After that session, I continued taking pictures, leading me to where I am today. After nine years now, I am more determined to be a life-changing photographer than before,” she said.

The sensational photographer said she takes photography as a gift from the Almighty.

“I take photography as a gift from Allah. However, photography is not easy in this country. It takes dedication, determination, and consistency to survive,” she boldly explained.

Baldez, as she is commonly known in the photography industry, has pursued her passion by moving to sports photography, where she takes incredible pictures that hook photography lovers.

As a young female photographer, she always stands extraordinary in the midst of men doing her job. Despite being a lady, she does not even mind being called a ‘cameraman,’ a manifestation of the belief that such craft is for men. Sarjo, however, defied the odds and evolved into a powerful photographer regardless of the perceived notion that the craft was conceived for men.

There is no photography school in the Gambia, but Baldez doesn’t want to sit down and do nothing with her passion for photography; she has always been determined to change and create a meaningful career.

Impressively, Baldez, who had thought there was no photography school in The Gambia, would watch YouTube tutorials and ask established sports photographers for help.

Her first job at an overseas sports event, where she went with little or nothing known about her,  was at a match between the Gambia and South Sudan during the Afcon qualification in Senegal in 2022.

In 2022,  she had a stink with  Real de Banjul, a top-flight Gambian team, to join them freelance before joining Fortune FC as the club’s full-time position as an official photographer.

The AFCON in the Ivory Coast could be described as a major breakthrough for her. She announced her presence with amazing photos during the Senegambia derby between the Gambia and Senegal. This was followed by another successful outing when she was present at Abidjan to take pictures during the game where Ivory Coast played against Nigeria. The AFCON brought her to the spotlight, recognizing and celebrating her talent in photography.

Like every optimist, Sarjo has enormous dreams in football. She wants to be the first Gambian female photographer to work with FIFA as a media personnel, where she dreams of leaving a massive legacy.

“My desire is to go further in sports photography. It is one aspect of photography that fuels me and makes me so happy. I wish to be the first female photographer in the country to work with FIFA as media personnel and leave a lasting legacy to be modeled by others,” the ambitious young lady explained.

Uplifting Other Young Photographers

At the age of 22, Sarjo has multiple admirers and those who look up to her. People from different backgrounds contact her to train them in photography. With her passion for helping others succeed, Sarjo gathered these ready-to-learn young people and formed a social media page called Team Baldezz, where they will exhibit their photography skills.

“This team is ready to do what it takes to make a difference with what they have. They are a combination of members with a burning passion for photography, videography, graphic design and script writing,” she explained.

Her Appointment As WAFU Zone A Official Photographer

Last month, Sarjo took another step forward in her career when she became the new official photographer for the West African Football Union Zone A. She explained how it happened to The Alkamba Times.

“I met with WAFU  Zone A after being invited to photograph the women’s Referee workshop at Princess Hotel.

“Veronica Malack, being the manager of women’s football zone A and loving to empower women, suggested to the director that a photographer for zone A be hired.

“I was asked to send in my CV, and I did as required. I was also preparing to go for the tournament in Senegal; while my club president was helping me prepare, I got a call from Wafu for a meeting. I was appointed as the official photographer of zone A WAFU.”

AWARD  

Two months ago, on the 19th of April, 2024, Sarjo Baldeh scooped the prestigious African Youth Tourism Award “For Sports Tourism Through Photography in The Gambia.” 

“I am incredibly humbled and honored to be invited as a guest of honor and to receive this prestigious award at the 2024 Africa Youth Festival in Lagos, Nigeria. This recognition means the world to me, and I am truly grateful for this incredible opportunity.” Sarjo Baldeh wrote. 

The festival was held in Lagos, Nigeria.

Final Nominee for the Youth of the Year Award

After a very successful past 12 months, Sarjo Baldeh is one of the last three nominees for the National Youth Parliament Youth of the Year Award.  The young, ambitious photographer is a strong contender for tonight’s award.

Baldez’s evolution in sports photography is a clear testament to how far dreams and determination can take a person. Now, she has redefined sports photography in the country, attracting more young women to enter the industry.

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