On January 25, 2011, the Egyptian Revolution broke out. Following years of discontent with the Hosni Mubarak regime, the working class movement turned Cairo’s central square, Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the protest. Ten years later, this same square is now deserted, because of both the pandemic and the change in Egyptian politics. In the center of the square, where the protesters had erected makeshift tents, now stands a monument unrelated to the movement.
The fight against oblivion
Over the course of ten years, the memories and symbols of the Revolution have been erased, distorted by history. “In memory of January 25, 2011. At a time in the collective Egyptian consciousness when idealists and pragmatists came together for the dignity and respect of our people. May these voices prevail,” writes photographer Laura El-Tantawy in the dedication of her book.
Ten years after the Revolution, she is coming out with a new version of her book In The Shadow of the Pyramids, which at the time portrayed the emotional chaos the photographer felt when, in 2005, she left the U.S. to return to Egypt, where she experienced the political whirlwind that was transforming her country then.
Neither the photos nor the texts have changed. Only the order in which they are arranged is different. The book is now chronological, with each image being first of all concealed, under a double folding page that soberly features just a date—a date which, at first glance, one might mistake for a number, as anonymous as those who waged the Revolution in 2011. As for Laura El-Tantawy’s distinctive style, it remains as subtle as ever in its use of suggestion.
“This book arose out of the responsibility of honoring my role as a witness, as a visual chronicler of one of the most important chapters in modern Egyptian history,” says Laura El-Tantawy. “I wanted it to be a book that remembers these events, so that they are not forgotten.” The dates, which are the only thing you see when you turn the pages, anchor this version in a predominantly historical context.
A reflection on the object
Laura El-Tantawy is also experimenting with editing in her new book. Here, chronology is the only criterion used in the layout of the photos. Looking at this “2.0” version, as she calls it, it is interesting to note the differences in perception, compared to the original book. The poetry of the photographer’s visual language is still present, but the work as a whole is more erratic, more neutral.
What remains of the first version is the way it is anchored in memory, in the photographer’s childhood, through photos taken from her family archives. On the front and back cover, they propel the book into the field of memory and intimate personal experience. And at the same time, the book gives everyone the opportunity to remember, to not forget about the hope they were filled with 10 years earlier. “This appetite for change in the country is still there and, while it is not materializing politically, it is materializing elsewhere. A few months ago, a group of young women reported that a man was harassing and raping women. The media gave a lot of coverage to the story and I want to believe that this was possible thanks to the movement of 10 years ago.”
By Laurence Cornet
Laurence Cornet is the Paris-based editorial director of the organization Dysturb, a journalist specializing in photography, and an independent art curator.
In The Shadow of The Pyramids, Laura El-Tantawy
10-Year Anniversary Edition
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