Painting a portrait of rebirth

Farah El Alfy
4 Min Read

CAIRO: When thinking of Algeria, most people remember the wars, the terror, the French invasion and unsettlement. The country has seen occupations by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Jews, Ottomans and finally the French, which lasted until 1962, and marked the beginning of a brutal civil war that ended only a few years ago.

American photojournalist Tom Hartwell wanted to paint a picture different from the bloody vision imbedded in most people’s minds and replace it with a beautiful portrait of a country that has bloomed once again.

“Most people think of Algeria and they remember the wars and the suffering . I think Algeria is past those wars and I wanted to show Algeria is moving into a new era which is a lot more positive, explains Hartwell.

The idea flourished when he was visiting Algeria in 2004 to judge a photo competition and was very impressed with the country and the people. He then applied for a grant, and went back for a year on a Fulbright grant, teaching and working on this project.

The pictures concentrate mostly on people at different events and in various settings; on the beach, in celebrations, participating in sports, among others. He did not have previous knowledge of many of the events he ended up shooting, but rather fell upon them while traveling around the country, choosing moments that represent the country and culture.

The well composed pictures are a fusion between news and art. “It has deserts, it has beautiful beaches, great scenery, it has Roman ruins and most importantly the people are very nice, elaborates Hartwell.

The exhibition opened for the first time at the Sony Gallery at the American University in Cairo. Jan sjgdsjg was very impressed by the pictures, “I think it is really wonderful. It shows the color of Algeria and how the people bounced back from a lot of different events and the pictures are very well composed . it’s a very good product.

As well as being aesthetic, the pictures can be considered educational. Among the viewers, Ahmed Sherif, director/camera man for documentary films, says, “There are some very interesting pictures that show modern life in Algeria from an angle not many people have seen before . Quite educational pictures if you don’t know Algeria.

Hartwell is a well-established photojournalist who has lived in Cairo since the ’80s and is represented by Redux Pictures in New York. His work from all around the Middle East has appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek in features and news as well as documentary assignments. He is originally from Austin, Texas, were he graduated with a degree in photojournalism and Middle East studies.

He has taught photography at the American University in Cairo, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Algiers and the Fine Arts Academy in Algiers.

Hartwell has exhibited and published his images worldwide. His joint exhibition with Randa Shaath, “The State of Palestine, was featured at The Sony Gallery in February 1999 and Peace That Kill with Enric Marti appeared in February 2001.

The exhibition, entitled “Algeria Lives, is on display at the Sony Gallery for Photography, Main Campus of the American University in Cairo until June 1.

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