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Rec Room: Rachel Somerstein: Femmes Algérienne

May 18, 2010


Rachel_Somerstein-small.jpgTalk about the male gaze. During his army service in Algeria from 1960 to ’62, French photographer Marc Garanger was made to photograph Algerian women for their ID cards. For the photos, the women were forced to remove their veils. (Sound familiar, given the present debate to ban the veil in France and Belgium?) Garanger, then 25, hated his task. But he was efficient: he took some 2,000 portraits in only 10 days. And he never got rid of the negatives.

The portraits–black and white photos of women, young and old, whose expressions range from defiance to anger, humiliation to disgust–were shown in public for the first time at “Bodies in Question,” the exhibition curated by Fred Ritchin at New York’s Photo Festival. Garanger, who recently traveled to Algeria to meet with the very communities he’d photographed four decades ago, paired these portraits with large-scale color photos showing these same women surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

What’s most striking about the Femmes Algérienne series is that it attempts to redeem the irredeemable: the abusive expression of absolute power by the colonizer over the colonized. That Garanger so artfully achieves this redemption–to the extent that such a thing is possible – is equally remarkable. And that he does so without succumbing to schlock, as do so many other expressions of creativity in the service of redemption, certainly makes him worthy of the festival’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award.


Bio: Rachel Somerstein’s essays and criticism have appeared in ARTnews and Next American City. She recently earned her M.F.A. from New York University and is presently at work on a collection of short fiction. She is a staff writer at Next American City. Read her liveblog of the Cities and Women’s Health conference here.

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One comment for Rec Room: Rachel Somerstein: Femmes Algérienne

  1. Comment by X on June 6, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    What makes this exhibit especially ironic is that, 50 years later, the Algerian government is now proposing to require hijab-less photos on ID cards. The martyrs of the revolution must be turning in their graves.

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