In 1960, Marc Garanger, a 25-year-old draftee landed in Algeria against his will. He had put off his departure for the army as long as he could "hoping that the war would end without him". He became the regiment's photographer from 1960 to 1962. When Maurice Challes, head of the French army, decided to destroy mountain villages in Algeria and to transfer inhabitants to internment camps, Garanger was told to take photographs for identity cards Algerians were required to carry (via), cards that made them visible and legible to French colonial authorities (Eileraas, 2003), cards they had to carry in "regroupment villages" that were supervised from observation posts, encircled with barbed wire, closed at night (Naggar, 1996):
"Naturally he asked the military photographer to make these cards. Either I refused and went to prison, or I accepted. I understood my luck: it was to be a witness, to make pictures of what I saw that mirrored my opposition to the war. I saw that I could use what I was forced to do, and have the pictures tell the opposite of what the authorities wanted them to tell."
After the first day, the commandant ordered all women to be photographed without the veils they usually wore in public. For the Algerian women, the forced unveiling felt like standing before the camera naked (via), it was obscene and humiliating as for them, the veil is inseperable from the face, a second skin (Naggar, 1996). Some of them looked lost, vulnerable, others distressed and extremely angry. "They were firing at me with their eyes", Garanger later recalled (via). He was repeatedly struck by the violence he saw in the Algerian women's eyes when they met his camera's gaze (Eileraas, 2003).
"The gaze is a means of communication and knowledge, and I don't think that the people who I photographed had any illusions about that. Women's violent protestation of colonial aggression is visible in every one of their gazes. It is this gaze to which I want to bear witness." Marc Garanger, cited in Eileraas (2003)"The women would be lined up, then each in turn would sit on a stool outdoors, in front of the whitewashed wall of a house. Without their veils, their disheveled hair and their protective tattoos were exposed. Their lined faces reflected the harshness of their life. The stiffness of their pose and the intensity of their gaze evoke early daguerreotypes. (...) In the Middle East, the veil is like a second skin among traditional people. It may be taken off only within the secrecy of the walls, among women or between husband and wife, but never publicly. Garanger’s portraits symbolize the collision of two civilizations, Islamic and Western, and serve as an apt metaphor for colonization. The women’s defiant look may be thought of as an ‘evil eye’ that they cast to protect themselves and curse their enemies."
"You have to understand that this is a military camp. This was war and they were forced to be photographed, so there was no communication. This had to happen. I had to take the picture, and they had no choice in being photographed."
"I was trying to give them back their humanity and their dignity through my portraits."
"Driven by a spirit of revolt, Garanger exploited photography's capacity to shape the national imagery. He tried to create images that would question the authoring (and auhorizing) functions of the colonial gaze. Given his ambivalent position vis-à-vis la mission civilatrice, Garanger opens up a space for disidentification with the racial and sexual politics embedded in colonial imagery."
Karina Eileraas (2003)
"La réalité c'est le mensonge, l'horreur. Et donc, pour survivre, pour m'exprimer avec mon œil, puisque les mots sont inutiles, je prends mon appareil photo. Pour hurler mon désaccord. Pendant vingt-quatre mois, je n'ai pas arrèté, sûr qu'on jour je pourrai tèmoigner, raconter avec des images."
Marc Garanger, cited in Howell (2010)
"I was very angry. France was forcing me into a war I did not want to do. Though everybody around me was saying "we won", I was convinced it was doomed. The outspoken opinions around me were so degrading that I gave even more strength to my pictures. All this was significant of what this war was about: These people were not considered human, but savages, beasts France could kill as pleased! That's the real aim of this war and nothing else: Racism!"
In 1961, Garanger started organising photographic exhibitions in France "to spark public debate about French military practices in Algeria". With his exhibitions and anti-colonial photo-essays, he helped to disturb the silence France kept regarding the Algerian War (Eileraas, 2003). This war, in fact, has been hardly documented in France as the country seems to have chosen an approach of willful forgetting and of "collective amnesia" (Naggar, 1996).
Garanger went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet the women he had photographed in the 1960s. The photographs he had taken were often the only ones the women had of themselves (via).
::: Interview with Marc Garanger (2010): LISTEN/WATCH
- Fifty years after Algeria's independence, France is still in denial; The Guardian (2012), LINK
- The History of French-Muslim Violence Began in the Streets of Algeria; Time (2015), LINK
- France's unresolved Algerian war sheds light on the Paris attack, The Independent (2015); LINK
- Camus and France's Algerian Wars, The New Yorker (2012); LINK
- Algerian independence film draws French protest at Cannes (2010): WATCH
- Eileraas, K. (2003). Disorienting Looks, Ecarts d'identité: Colonial Photography and Creative Misrecognition in Leila Sebbar's Eherazade. In I. E. Boer (ed.) After Orientalism: Critical Entanglements, Productive Looks, 23-44. Amsterdam & New York: Rodopi
- Howell, J. (2010). "Decoding Marc Garanger's Photographic Message in La Guerre d'Algérie vue par un appelé du contingent", Dalhousie French Studies, 92, 85-95.
- Naggar, C. (1996) The Unveiled: Algerian Women. In L. Heron & V. Williams (eds.) Illuminations: Women Writing on Photography from the 1850s to the Present, 422-426. Duke University Press
- Ptacek, M. M. (2015). Simone de Beauvoir's Algerian war: torture and the rejection of ethics. Theory and Society, 44(6), 499-535.
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