https://vimeo.com/164410851 (by Laura El-Tantawy)
Design: Sybren (SYB) KUIPER
HC (no dust jacket, as issued), 17,5 x 23
x 4 cm., 440 pp., (+7 smaller text pp. & 18 pp. as single sheets), Ltd. to 500 numbered copies.
Self published in 2015.
"'In the Shadow of the Pyramids' is a first person account exploring memory and identity. With images spanning 2005 to 2014, what began as a look in the mirror to understand the essence of Egyptian identity expanded into an exploration of the trials and tribulations of a turbulent nation. The result is dark, sentimental and passionate. Juxtaposing the innocence of the past with the obscurity of the present, the book is an experience, edited to look like a one night’s encounter. A peaceful and tranquil day suddenly turns violent and chaotic, it’s claustrophobic, until a new dawn rises and there is hope again." (L.T.)
"The revolution of Jan. 25, 2011 revived a long lost sense of pride and strength for Egyptian people.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen Egyptians live under a totalitarian regime pressing down against their dignity. People lost their national pride and unity. Wealth and power rested in the hands of a few who seemed the only ones with the right to live. The masses felt isolated and with this isolation people became foreigners in their own land.
Over the past three decades this country of nearly 85 million – the Arab world’s most populous and traditionally its most revered – became a country of lost souls – ripped apart by political, social and economic turmoil. I didn’t have to go beyond the streets to see the depth of this estrangement.
The signs were this is a country on the verge of an explosion.
“It’s a horrible feeling to realize that your country is weak, your voice is weak, your opinion is weak – to realize that if you sell your soul, your body, your pen and your name, you still wouldn’t be able to afford a loaf of bread,” writes the Egyptian vernacular poet Hesham al-Gokh in “Goha”.
In the 30 years of former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Egypt became one of the world’s top 10 most corrupt nations. Bribery was common practice to get anything done, from a driver’s license to getting employed. Torture & humiliation of Egyptians was a daily occurrence. At least 24 million can’t read or write & estimates say more than 10 million live outside Egypt in pursuit of a better life. Egypt is one of a handful of countries where poverty forced roughly one million people to make homes out of cemeteries, breathing the spirit of the dead to stay alive.
In 2005 I began to document the lives of everyday Egyptians. The purpose of my work has & is to identify the essence of being Egyptian during & after Mubarak’s era. In doing so I aim to show how events in this strategic North African country can give insight into the future of the Middle East.
In parts, this project has been published before in different places, one of them being BURN magazine." (Laura El-Tantawy)
“There are 90 million people in this country. Ninety million stories to be told. This is the beginning of only one.”
The country is Egypt, the year is 2011 and the Arab Spring is in full flight. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is packed with protestors against the president’s rule and El-Tantawy is in their midst. “In the square of Liberation I found dreamers. Just like in the films. Thousands of them. In Tahrir Square I found myself again.”
If the protestors are dreamers (in more than one sense), that is how the book plays out; like a color-saturated, grain-soaked, ISO-high dream. It’s dreamland all the way as the subdued fearfulness and paranoia of the early images explodes into the cathartic adrenalin rush of the massed crowds in Tahrir Square. They stand in the ranks, flags and banners aloft and fireworks blasting.
But even here, there is suspicion and distrust. People know they are being watched, fear is present, spies are everywhere and new schisms are being formed as the old ones are broken down. This is no peaceful revolution even when bullets aren’t being fired and rocks aren’t being thrown. It’s one where familiar forms of violence and oppression are biding their time beyond the short term, seeking new divisions in which to find an outlet; the uniform or the religion or the party may change but the violence and the power remain the same.
There are people in these crowds who know this. That’s what El-Tantawy picks out, the quiet moments of faces amid the frenzy, and that’s what makes the book stand out as a very special book. It’s a triple edit; the before, the now, and the after, an edit made in the full light of what was to come; the old dictator becoming a new dictator, the oppression shape-shifting into suits and fatigues, into the subsequent killing and torture that never fit into anything as neat and tidy sounding as the Arab Spring.
In the Shadow of the Pyramids is a visualisation of a mentality, a picture of a repressive state of mind and what happens when that is manifested through violence and armed force. In the book, the dream becomes a nightmare and the square becomes darker. Barbed wire and shields and barriers are photographed or created by El-Tantawy through her off-kilter framing and use of foregrounds to form visual keyholes. Figures stand ominously in windows and then ranks of police appear on the scene against a backdrop of orange and red.
The faces of the protestors are isolated now. We see their anger and their tears. These are men and women who are shocked by what they have witnessed, as El-Tantawy is shocked by what she has witnessed. “I canvas the square looking for faces that express this revolution,” she writes. “Hope, fear, disappointment, joy, pride. This square has seen it all. I ache when they ache. Cry when they cry. Try to laugh when they try. In their faces I see my own.”
She sees her first body on July 27th 2013. It’s something she doesn’t want to be in this story, in a place that she realizes is no longer home. And then things get concrete with a picture of a pool of blood against a line of police shields and suspicion, separation and fear reigns again. A portrait of Reda, a blind weeping boy, crystallizes that fear and then we’re finished and it’s “over.” The book ends with “normality,” with the pyramids and a couple sitting under a tree. Everything is back the way it was, but what kind of a way is that? On the surface things are normal, but what lies beneath this surface? What is oppressed? What aren’t people saying or showing or feeling?
The phenomenal thing about El-Tantawy’s book is that she captures this subconscious dream-life of a nation where fear and distrust form the basis of everyday life. She tells the story of Tahrir Square but she also visualises a way of thinking and how that affects both herself and a people. And indeed all of us, because In the Shadow of the Pyramids shows what it feels like to live in a place where you’re not free to say what you think or to be who you are. Wherever we live corporate, political, communal, racial, religious or military violence is never too far from the surface. Including in the United States and where I live, in the United Kingdom. Tahrir Square could be anywhere." (Colin Pantall)
about the photographer:
Laura El-Tantawy is a British/Egyptian photographer spending her time between London and Cairo. She was born in Worcestershire, England and grew up between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She works on self-initiated projects.
She worked as a newspaper photographer with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Sarasota Herald-Tribune (USA). In 2006, she became freelance to focus on personal projects. In 2008, she was nominated and accepted as one of 15 photographers from around the world to participate in Reflexions Masterclass, a two-year photo seminar directed by Italian photographer Giogia Fiorio and French curator Gabriel Bauret. In 2005 she started work on her first book documenting her journey through a changing Egypt. As part of her urge to understand the issues, in 2009 she accepted a six-month fellowship at University of Oxford (UK) to research free speech in Egyptian. Her work has been published and exhibited in the US, Europe, Asia and Middle East.
Auf der ersten Ebene handelt diese photo journalistische Arbeit von der ägyptischen Revolution im Jahr 2011, den damit verbundenen Hoffnungen und den blutigen Rückschlägen. Wenn man den von Laura El-Tantawy selbst verfassten Kurztexten folgt und die auf Extreseiten eingefügten Kinderbilder hinzunimmt, gewinnt das Buch deutlich an Tiefe, das Buch wird zuu einem persönlichen Dokument des Scheiterns und Zusammenbruchs des eigenen Bilds von Vergangenheit & Gegenwart.
Die von den friedlichen Protesten auf dem Tahrir-Platz begeisterte Fotografin hatte nach ihrem Fortgang Richtung England ein beinahe romantisches Bild ihrer Heimat. So beginnt das Buch. Zu den Protesten reiste sie wieder ein und hielt das Bunte Treiben und die Verschmelzung der verschiedenen Bevölkerungsgruppen zum Zweck eines gemeinsamen Ziels begeistert fest.
Um so erschreckender nahm sie die Verschärfung der Situation wahr, nachdem der damalige Staatschef Mubarak zwar abgesetzt, die Proteste jedoch weiter gingen. El-Tantawy stellte sich selbst die Frage, was und wie sie fotografieren soll, da sie sich auf keine der beiden Seiten zu stellen vermochte.
Im Januar hat die ägyptisch-britische Fotografin Laura El-Tantawys den bei UNSEEN 2014 short gelisteten Dummy veröffentlicht. Das üppige, auf 440 Seiten ausgebreitete Material wurde von Sybren (SYB) Kuiper, dem niederländischen Designer für das Besondere Fotobuch, sorgsam editiert und gestaltet. Der Band ist auf nur 500 nummerierte & signierte Exemplare limitiert.