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Women of the Algerian War Unveiled
April 25, 2013 4:39 AM   Subscribe

In 1960, the French military required identification photographs of the people of remote mountain villages. The women were forced to unveil. “I would come within three feet of them,” Garanger remembers. “They would be unveiled. In a period of ten days, I made two thousand portraits, two hundred a day. The women had no choice in the matter. Their only way of protesting was through their look.”

“It is this immediate look that matters,” Garanger continues. “When one discharges a condenser, a spark comes out: to me, photography involves seizing just that instant of discharge. In these sessions, I felt a completely crazy emotion. It was an overwhelming experience, with lightning in each image. I held up for the world a mirror, which reflected this lightning look that the women cast at me.”

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posted by Erasmouse (38 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I don't know why, perhaps it's the power of suggestion, but the looks given by the women--while withering--come across as very French.
posted by oddman at 4:45 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I guess he got permission from them to publish when he went back? Otherwise, i'm not sure how i feel about this.
posted by empath at 4:48 AM on April 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Never seen that kind of facial ?henna?tattoo? before. Is that a Berber thing?
posted by Meatbomb at 4:54 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Fifty years after Algeria’s independence was proclaimed, Garanger’s contested portraits have not lost their strength. When he went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet those he had photographed, he found that the pictures he had taken were often the only ones that the women ever had of themselves, and they welcomed his return: he had become the keeper of their memory. This month, his portraits will be exhibited in Algiers"
posted by Erasmouse at 4:55 AM on April 25, 2013 [17 favorites]


I'm with empath. Except, I'm sure how I feel about it, and it's not good.
posted by rosa at 4:59 AM on April 25, 2013


Wow, those are some pissed-off ladies. Not only involuntarily unveiled but also possibly forced to violate some aniconistic tenet with the photo...
posted by jim in austin at 5:06 AM on April 25, 2013


they welcomed his return

In light of this, I found these portraits quite powerful. That first one--absolutely arresting. Hard to believe that face was hidden behind a veil. And #6 is wonderful--she looks as though, if she chose, she could easily reach right through time and and space to pluck your eyes right out of your head.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:09 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unveiling as a weapon of war? This is rife with unpleasant associations.
posted by sneebler at 5:17 AM on April 25, 2013


Berber tattoo info here.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:28 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Their only way of protesting was through their look.

Yeah. Those stink eye photographs speak volumes to what the locals thought of French colonialism.

Interesting however that the French use of photographs was to identify individual women - recognizing them as individual human beings - while the facial tattoos on many of the ladies serve to identify them by their relationship to some man.

On preview from the Berber tattoo link:

"In the early 20th century, the Rif Berber women of Morocco, among others, practiced tattooing as a prerequisite for marriage."
posted by three blind mice at 5:35 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Garanger’s portraits symbolize the collision of two civilizations, Islamic and Western, and serve as an apt metaphor for colonization.

Hmmmm. I thought of them more as a record of the violation of a bunch of women's personal space and privacy. I mean, I get that the photographer was more or less forced into this; I can't imagine that military prison in Algeria at that time was anything to laugh at, but, still....

also:

regroupment villages

now there is a euphemism!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:44 AM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


Eh, I think it's a stretch to say that, unlike the culture of these women, French colonialism strove to recognize Algerian women as individual human beings while removing them from their homes, resettling them in concentration camps ("regroupment villages"), and trying to isolate them from their local culture and broader population.

Just look at those pictures: even within a culture that was probably highly patriarchal and restrictive for women, that is a group of women who have preserved their individuality, maintained their identity in the face of a brutal colonial administration. Even the tattooing has elements of choice and agency in it, as well as a way for women to maintain social and cultural power:
"When a girl was certain that she was to be married and when all arrangements for her wedding had been made, her family called in an old woman of the same awar, or sociological family, who was expert in the indelible art... early all Berber tattooists were women, praised for their knowledge of healing substances and their skill in epidermic artistry. In the High Atlas of Morocco, excerpts from the late 1920s Berber poem Chants de la Tessaout reveal that the tattooist Lalla Taouchamt, “The Madame Tattooer,” was divinely blessed, demonstrating that tattooists were locally recognized and often remembered by their community histories."
posted by ChuraChura at 5:51 AM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


These are great photographs.

Many of these women I would not have guessed to be Berber or Algerian at all.
posted by OmieWise at 6:05 AM on April 25, 2013


“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.”

To me the fact that he had empathy for the women, and wanted to show the image that they were choosing to project - even though they had no choice about being seen - is very powerful. It feels like he was with them in the moment, and not just a dispassionate observer objectifying them.
posted by billiebee at 6:32 AM on April 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


These are amazing. "Stink eye" doesn't even begin to cover it. Those are some fascinating faces.
posted by muckster at 7:45 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel very conflicted about these photos. On the one hand, the photographer clearly did the best he could with the situation he was forced into -- he used his position as military photographer and the task of creating I.D. cards for these women as a medium for resistance and as a mirror for the true brutality that was happening before his eyes. Hopefully these photos made some sort of difference in the way the French think about the Algerian War. Now we look upon these photos and we see what we think is how these people really felt about colonialism and mistreatment by the French. At the same time, though, there is something about photographing and attempting to 'expose the truth' about the "other," which is unnerving -- as though we understand enough about their pain or their feelings to showcase these photographs to the world, as if we own the right to expose these women in their utmost vulnerable states. It makes me uncomfortable to call their faces "fascinating" as though we bring some sort of aesthetic value to their pain -- it almost reminds me a bit of National Geographic. I'm probably just rambling at this point, but I just can't help feel torn.
posted by OnTheWing at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I find these upsetting too. Have they made any attempt to contact those of the woman who might still be living? Or their children?
posted by mareli at 8:03 AM on April 25, 2013


mareli: "Have they made any attempt to contact those of the woman who might still be living? Or their children?"

Bottom of the article:
"When he went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet those he had photographed, he found that the pictures he had taken were often the only ones that the women ever had of themselves, and they welcomed his return: he had become the keeper of their memory. This month, his portraits will be exhibited in Algiers."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Why is everybody talking as if this were long ago, far away?

Unveiling for ID photos is an occasional issue in Canada, right now, today, and I seem to recall having seen it as an issue in the US. There are probably thousands of women who object to unveiling... and thousands of other people who object to the photos for other reasons.

Should people who don't want to be photographed be able to opt out of ID photos, here, now, today?

... and if even ONE of the photos they're showing publicly on the Internet is being shown without the PERSONAL permission of the subject, isn't that a bigger issue than taking a picture and sticking it in a file or on a card?
posted by Hizonner at 8:13 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I lived in Algeria for several years, and I wish more people in the English-speaking world knew about the history of this beautiful and troubled land. One of the best resources I can recommend for anyone wanting to learn more about that period in the country's history is Alistair Horne's "A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962". It is still used as a cautionary text for military personnel studying insurgencies, and I know for many years it was on the (US) Marine Corps professional development reading list. Another great visual record of that time-- albeit a mostly urban one-- is Gillo Pontecorvo's classic 1966 film "The Battle of Algiers" (Netflix, also Roger Ebert had some nice things to say about it). Two great additional sources that really bring that vicious and tragic war to life. I think they ought to be read and seen by everyone.
posted by seasparrow at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


I understand feeling a little conflicted about these photos, but as mentioned, the women welcomed his return and were thankful to have even a single image of themselves. I can't feel too conflicted about upending a society* that so completely dehumanizes every single adult female such that, at the ends of their lives, they don't have a single image of their own faces to recall the beauty and vitality of their youth, or to see the smiles and light in their eyes when engaging with their children and grandchildren, etc.

Clash of cultures, their values are not mine, etc., but a big part of me believes that women in severely repressive cultures are conditioned to love their veils, and come to embrace the confinement, a sort of long-term Stockholm syndrome. While I have much empathy for what these women were obviously feeling at the time (some really powerful glares in those photos), given time to reflect, they obviously changed their minds about how they felt about it, as I think many women forced to wear veils or burqas would come to feel given the freedom to actually be an independent person in the world.

So am I champion of human rights to feel that women forced to wear veils/burqas/etc. all of their lives are being unfairly dehumanized, or am I an imperialist westerner who doesn't respect their values? And would the answer to this question be different if the cultural norm I was questioning wasn't a veil, but, say, the right of a husband to beat his wife? I just don't think it's OK ever to dehumanize anyone, no matter what normal cultural practices may be.

*-n.b.: not defending French actions in Algeria.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


There are a few more shots here from his return visit-- none of the women are veiled in the modern shots (I think the veil has a mixed history in that part of Algeria).
posted by Erasmouse at 9:10 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I apologize for not having hunted down the photos of women now (well, in 2004) for the initial post, by the way-- I saw them together in a show many years ago so I had a little more context myself which I ought to have shared. The raw discomfort of the originals stands of course.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unveiling for ID photos is an occasional issue in Canada, right now, today, and I seem to recall having seen it as an issue in the US. There are probably thousands of women who object to unveiling... and thousands of other people who object to the photos for other reasons.

In Minnesota, you're allowed to petition for an exception to the photo requirement, though it has to be a religious objection. If you succeed, you can choose whether to have a photo in the state's records (but not on your license/ID) or to give them a 'unique biometric identifier', which I think means fingerprints (that's the example they give, anyway). You're also allowed to have you head covered in your photo, as long as your whole face is visible. The problem, of course, is that not having a photo has the potential to be a massive headache if you get pulled over in another state.
posted by hoyland at 9:41 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should people who don't want to be photographed be able to opt out of ID photos, here, now, today?

There is a bit of difference between getting an ID as a requirement for services of various types and being forced, more or less at gunpoint, to get ID that provide no value to you. You can argue that an ID is necessary for modern life and that opting-of isn't really an option, but the threat of violence if you refuse is a significant issue.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:57 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bottom of the article:
"When he went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet those he had photographed, he found that the pictures he had taken were often the only ones that the women ever had of themselves, and they welcomed his return: he had become the keeper of their memory. This month, his portraits will be exhibited in Algiers."


...

There are a few more shots here from his return visit-- none of the women are veiled in the modern shots (I think the veil has a mixed history in that part of Algeria).


I guess things turned out well; but do the ends ever justify the means?

I imagine that in 1960, there was no meaningful debate discussing this issue as there might have been in modern-day Canada or Minnesota - it was a rule imposed by an invading force.
posted by bitteroldman at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...more or less at gunpoint..." As someone who has studied this war, I want to respectfully point out that there was no "more or less" about it. It was at gunpoint-- the French made almost every evil vicious mistake possible in that country, and both sides routinely committed atrocities that should shock and horrify any decent human being.
posted by seasparrow at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


No compassionate person could possibly approve of the behavior of France in the Algerian war.

That said, I am not a cultural relativist. The fact that women in many cultures - and always, only women - are forced to keep their faces covered offends me deeply - particularly since this is part of an entire culture of "women as property".

So in many ways I see this as the best possible outcome (of this tiny part of this awful war, of course). "The system" forces women to be photographed. They're angry but they do it. A decade later, these photographs are valued and prized by them. Everyone learns something.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:12 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are so beautiful, I feel like they could have been taken yesterday or 2000 years ago.
posted by PHINC at 11:22 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Liberation is not a cookie-cutter deal. It looks different to every single woman in the world, and Muslim women are no different. There are Muslim women for whom liberation looks like a miniskirt, or a headscarf, or a university degree, or a well-paying job, or a husband, or a house, or debt wiped clean, or a divorce, or a reliable source of clean water, or opportunities for her children, or different combinations of these, etc. Forcing one model of liberation on anyone isn’t liberating; it’s just as oppressive as other paternalist or patriarchal forces in a Muslim woman’s life.

"The best example of this is clothing, and the symbolizing of clothing as liberation, oftentimes equating choice of clothing with liberation. While I personally believe that women should be able to wear what they themselves want and face no cultural, religious, or other repercussions for it, assuming that changing clothing brings liberation is misguided. Clothing is a symbol of repression for a reason: it is not the cloth itself that oppresses, but the complex legal, social, and economic issues that enforce the cloth. Campaigning for Afghan women to have the right to remove their burqas will not change the issues that stand in their way and enforce a dress code."
posted by ChuraChura at 11:40 AM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


ChuraChura: Even the tattooing has elements of choice and agency in it, as well as a way for women to maintain social and cultural power:

"When a girl was certain that she was to be married and when all arrangements for her wedding had been made, her family called in an old woman of the same awar, or sociological family, who was expert in the indelible art... early all Berber tattooists were women, praised for their knowledge of healing substances and their skill in epidermic artistry. In the High Atlas of Morocco, excerpts from the late 1920s Berber poem Chants de la Tessaout reveal that the tattooist Lalla Taouchamt, “The Madame Tattooer,” was divinely blessed, demonstrating that tattooists were locally recognized and often remembered by their community histories."
I'm missing the choice and agency of having your family automatically call in someone to permanently demarcate your face...
posted by IAmBroom at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Modern Amazigh women are not tattooed. Tattooing is actually not approved of in Islam. Nor is excessive piercing. Basically two earring holes per ear and a nose-rind is the maximum.
Amazigh people are Muslim, but a lot of pre-Islamic customs remained.
Henna and qidab which is a long lasting ink made from walnut gall are permitted, but nowadays only old women have the tattoos.

These tattoos were tribal markings. If a girl didn't have them she was considered less attractive.
Girls got them when they began to menstruate and were married soon after that.

The French presence in Algeria was mostly very bad. The War of Liberation was a time of terror.
By the way, many women took part in the fight for Algerian Independance.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:16 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


women in many cultures - and always, only women - are forced to keep their faces covered
Not true (first reference):

"Male Veils
Amadou Bamba, 1923

Among the Tuareg, Songhai, Moors, Hausa and Fulani of West Africa, women do not traditionally wear the veil, while men do. The men's facial covering originates from the belief that such action wards off evil spirits, but most probably relates to protection against the harsh desert sands as well; in any event, it is a firmly established tradition. Men begin wearing a veil at age 25 which conceals their entire face excluding their eyes. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members.[15][16]

In Indian, Pakistan, Bengldesh and Nepal men wear a 'sehra' on their wedding day. This is a male veil covering the whole face and neck. The sehra is made from either flowers, beads, tinsel, dry leaves or coconuts. The most common sehra is made from fresh marigolds. The groom wears this throughout the day concealing his face even during the wedding ceremony. In India today you can see the groom arriving on a horse with the sehra wrapped around his head."
posted by glasseyes at 6:01 PM on April 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


"By the way, many women took part in the fight for Algerian Independence."
Which is exactly why the French wanted photograpic ID for veiled women.

" I'm missing the choice and agency of having your family automatically call in someone to permanently demarcate your face..."
Since it marked a rite of passage without which the person wouldn't be seen as properly adult and responsible I'm guessing the young girls were pretty keen on it too. Maybe the cultural comparison to make should be with buying and fitting a girl's first bra? Or a sweet sixteen party?

In Northern Nigeria in the past, Hausa girls, unlike girls from the south, couldn't be kept in boarding school much past the age of 14 because they would run away to get married. Nobody forced them too, it was a choice: because there was more social status and autonomy for them in being a young married woman than in being a half-educated schoolgirl. Purdah notwithstanding. In fact, in that subsistence-agriculture economy there was more social status in being enclosed in purdah because it meant the husband was well-off enough to afford it, and it spared the wives from doing physical work.

Status is complicated. I wouldn't invoke Stockholm syndrome in this instance.
posted by glasseyes at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another thing, culturally in the Near East (ancient Egypt excepted) more clothing and coverage was a right of women who were not enslaved.
Slaves wore less.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:38 PM on April 25, 2013


I am struck by the similarity between the Berber chin tattoos and the tattoos the Mohave Indians put on their white captive Olive Oatman in the 19th century.
posted by LarryC at 9:18 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


@ LarryC interesting you noticed that! It's something that is pretty remarkable.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:27 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


glasseyes:
" I'm missing the choice and agency of having your family automatically call in someone to permanently demarcate your face..."
Since it marked a rite of passage without which the person wouldn't be seen as properly adult and responsible I'm guessing the young girls were pretty keen on it too. Maybe the cultural comparison to make should be with buying and fitting a girl's first bra? Or a sweet sixteen party?
Oh, good point. I forgot how pubescent girls in America are forced to have their bodies surgically altered with training bras at sweet sizteen parties.

Or maybe sweet sixteen parties in your neck of the woods involve significantly more scarification and bloodletting than where I grew up.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2013


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