[This article is part of the new Photography and Audiovisual Narratives Page launch. All accompanying launch posts can be found here.]
On a small terrace in Marseille, I met Safia Delta for the first time in working to complete my project Dry*. I asked to meet her because I consider her to be like me—a person containing an identity that is "multiple," as the Lebanese author Amin Maalouf describes it. Safia is from two different cultures, French and Algerian, balancing between the weight of both countries' history. We spent an hour talking about what it means to be Algerian, and we couldn't avoid talking about her family and her mother and about my family and my father. We cried together. The interview ended there but our dialogue continued: three years later, I saw her project “My Mother is a Stranger (and I Love Her)” for the first time. Safia wasn't there to talk about the project directly, but her visuals told her story in her absence.
Likewise, I could directly tell you all of the stories that connect me to each of the photographers presented here. But I would prefer that you build your own relationships with their work, with their stories, the artists, and their worlds. Safia's work is derived from the personal, and the interior self reverberates through the work of each of the photographers I have curated here. Even the most seemingly political work here, such as Lydia Saidi’s, at a second glance contains a deep reservoir of the personal. Her photography embodies her own form of protest. I have always regarded Algeria to be a hostile environment for photographers—it has as much of a chance to break you as it does to make you stronger in moving forward. I believe these seven photographers have chosen to be stronger.
This article is a collaboration between me and all of the photographers contained within. I thank each one of them for their trust.
*In Dry, I question the relation between the individual’s identity and their social environment, taking the Algerian social setting as a common factor between the range of people I am meeting for this project.
Safia Delta: My Mother is a Stranger (and I Love Her)
My Mother is a Stranger (and I Love Her) takes the mother figure as a starting point to explore the complexity of notions on belonging, family ties, roots, and how these concepts took shape in the life of a child who grew up far from the country of origin. Three years ago, I immersed myself in family albums. I started experimenting with a material that was one of the only—and most comfortable links—I had with my family in Algeria: photographs. Their silent nature was a pretext for me to fill in the biographic gaps of my parents’ lives. Disclosing fragments of their past became a way of tackling the subject of decolonization and experiencing its impact on our individual trajectories. The intertwining of digital and physical layers—whether they are prints, butcher’s wrapping paper, or plastic film—simultaneously aims to underline the feeling of isolation and restoring family bonds through a creative gesture. Asking my parents to participate in the staging of their own portraits enabled me to explore questions of identity and how a familiar being shelters opaque and multi-layered realities throughout his or her life—turning him or her into a stranger. This exercise also allowed me to involve them in an approach with which they were not familiar and to introduce them to an artistic world. This project initiated a work of self-representation and empowerment that I intend to continue to develop in future projects.
Lola Khalfa: Yokelni el hout w ma youkelni el doud
"I prefer to be eaten by fish than by leeches." This is the slogan of Sidi-Salem inhabitants, a small town located in the Algerian northeast. Sidi-Salem is most infamously known as the place where those called haragas, "people who cross the sea to emigrate illegally,” begin their journeys.
I did not try to center the subjects nor to depict them in perfect light. Their amateur aspects and this form representation evoke the first shots of these people.
Lynn S.K.: Rue Belouizdad, Alger
I was born in Algeria in December 1986. I lived there until I was seven. Because of the civil war, my parents and I moved to France. In the following years, we came back there for the holidays, until I was 10. At that point, my parents stopped bringing me with them. For a long time, memories came back to me like old dreams. Memories of Boumerdes, the city of my childhood, and the Champ Manoeuvre district, in Algiers. However, it took some time for this mental process to transform into a geographical path. In October 2014, I went back to Algeria for the first time after 17 years away.
In Alger, I stay rue Belouizdad, in a popular district, with my aunts, H. & N. Upon the death of their sister two years before, they moved in her flat and finally never left it. B. is also here; she was the nurse of my aunt who passed away, and she also stayed in the flat. This photographic series takes place in this little apartment that we four women share. H. and N. don’t work anymore and so they spend a lot of time at home, sleeping often—they look as tired as the country. While H. and N. are smoking, B. is praying, and I’m connecting back with my memories in this world that appears to me strange and familiar at the same time. I’m trying to create images through the filter of my mental pictures. After these 17 years of absence, I’m trying to deal with what can’t be forgotten anymore.
Nedjla Bencheikh: Indefinite Delay
This series began in 2017, with an unclear structure but with a clear aim: capturing the photographs' central figures in their state of stillness and of lingering within a vast background. The series—much like the figures it includes—is in a neutral position that stubbornly insists on disregarding all the current times’ major topics: identity, community, politics, and everything in between. It focuses instead on internal matters of a negative nature: disappointment, despair, and a complete loss of perspective. The latter is reflected in the lack of brightness contained within the images. In contrast, the aspect of "Indefinite Delay"—which implies that the figures are waiting for something with uncertainty—is reflected through the choice of putting the figures in vast backgrounds, alone. The conclusion that this series reaches eventually is that the aforementioned aspects of "identity, community, and politics" cannot be separated from internal, individual matters at all, nor can it be removed from the disappointment resulting from unrewarded efforts. These are the results of the difficulty of enduring chaotic political and social conditions.
Zohor Fatah: DNA Home
Since I was a little girl, my mother raised me with the idea that “a girl is just a guest at her parents' house; sooner or later she will get married and she will leave her family to move into another home.”
The idea of leaving the home that contains my familial DNA makes me want to record and keep every memory of my family. With this in mind, I started taking pictures with my phone and with my camera two years ago, trying to document every room in our house and rediscovering little details of space and time from every moment I spent with my family.
I tried to capture our “ordinary days” and ended up emphasizing that they are, in fact, not ordinary at all. These are very intimate lives, and the photographs reflect who we are. The series tells the story of who we choose to be as an Algerian family and how we choose to spend our time. Sadly, these moments are also easily forgotten, and so these “ordinary days” tell the story of my own DNA Home.
Lydia Saidi: The Fire Next Time: The Algerian Uprising in 2019
Massively rejected by a popular uprising that began on 22 February 2019, Algerian ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was pushed to resignation. He left a country devastated by corruption and which had only fragmented opposition. Since then, the military has taken control over state institutions and have multiplied the occurrences of random arrests and detentions. Despite a controversial presidential election, Algerians have maintained the practice of engaging in peaceful protests twice a week for more than a year, demanding the departure of the new president Tebboune, a Bouteflika’s loyalist, and the stopping of repression and corruption. Today, the protests have been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but activists promise they will be back on the streets soon. This series documents the popular uprising in the capital city of Algiers and explores the tensions present in maintaining peaceful protests and avoiding violence, despite repression and provocation.
Awel Haouati: Absences
In 2010-2013, I started a series called "Absences", bringing together photographs taken mostly in my grandparents' village, in the mountains, mainly in and around the old family home, abandoned for most of the year. My exile in France for my studies, my repeated absences, and my research finally took me away from this territory. As such, this series over time ended up in suspension too. Things have changed since then: the house has been reinvested by part of the family, it has undergone transformations and its atmosphere is not quite the same. The people in the pictures grew older. These photographs carry with them a taste of nostalgia and an unfinished story. Other more recent photographs, dating from 2019 to 2020 echo the series, although they were taken in a different context.