Revolution's Residue | 2011-16 - The Cairo Project

I had my camera when I went out to demonstrate on Friday, January 28, the climax of the Egyptian revolution (January 25-February 11, 2011). I was on the streets for over twelve hours but I took only two pictures; they were to sit for years on my hard drive, unedited and undisplayed: my only trophies from the revolution. Unlike the majority of “Arab Spring revolutionaries”, from the moment Tahrir Square was occupied in the small hours of Saturday, January 29 and until the long-time president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I felt that I couldn’t photograph and protest at the same time, that to be photographing would render my presence in the protests insincere and that the protests were about more important things than photography. At the same time the figures and the faces that I saw daily in and around the protests, and which belonged to both “revolutionaries” and “counterrevolutionaries”, imprinted themselves on my mind more forcefully than ever before: sullen and despairing men, slim women in high heels and children everywhere. Much later, while the aftermath of regime change made developments look more like an affliction and less like a triumph as the revolution was summarily betrayed – first by the rise of political Islam, then by a reinstatement of military despotism – I reencountered those loose archetypes once again, now no longer behaving with the urgency of historical players but simply going about their day. With the shadow of the revolution over them, however, I could see them better as slightly abstracted visual myths on the variously semi-reflective surfaces that had witnessed and survived the revolution: the metal of the elevators in Kafkaesque government establishments, the wood of office doors behind which young people were interrogated or worse, the puddles in which people stepped and the windows through which they looked, the surface of a parked car or a television screen… While Egyptians themselves seemed to lose all connection with the the excitement and hope and sheer living energy of early 2011, the characters of the revolution, it seemed to me, were hiding in the two dimensional world of these surfaces… I like to think of these photos as pages in an illuminated manuscript which, inspired by Ottoman miniatures and film noir, wax melancholy about post-Arab Spring Cairo. I like to think of them as leaves from a book of narrative poetry or lyrical storytelling which, on the all but opaque surfaces of daily life, trace the residue of a by now unequivocally lost revolution.

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