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Algeria 1961-2019: the images of Raymond Depardon and the words of Kamel Daoud at the Arab World Institute

Algeria 1961-2019: the images of Raymond Depardon and the words of Kamel Daoud at the Arab World Institute

60 years after the independence of Algeria, Raymond Depardon wanted to show photos taken in Algiers in 1961, during the strange and tense months that preceded it. He was then a very young photographer. With the Algerian writer Kamel Daoud, he has prepared a book. Their images and their words are exposed to Arab World Institute 80 photos from yesterday and also from today because the photographer returned to Algeria in 2019.

In 1961, Raymond Depardon was 19 years old. He works for the Dalmas agency, which sends him to Algeria. “The older photographers didn’t want to go there anymore. I was the little youngster and they sent me there”he says. “It’s a period that we don’t talk about much, a very tense period. The referendum (which opened the way to independence, editor’s note) had taken place.” A year and a half before independence takes effect. Months when daily life continues in Algiers, where the risk of attacks threatens.

Raymond Depardon, Boulevard Bugeaud, from the Hotel Aletti, Algiers, 1961. (© Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos)

Images “forgotten in a drawer”

In 2018, as the 60th anniversary of independence approached, Raymond Depardon brought out these old images, “forgotten in a drawer”photos of which he “wasn’t in love”he said. “I couldn’t take the photos I wanted. I was frustrated, unhappy” : he hides to do them, often with a telephoto lens, sometimes from the hotel window.

We discover them on the walls of the Institute of the Arab World: images of the streets of Algiers where the tension is palpable, where the concern can be read on the faces and in the hurried steps, under the graffiti of the OAS. Images where French and Algerians rub shoulders without communicating, yet very close. On a bench, in front of a fabric window…

Also on display are rare images of the negotiations preceding the Evian agreements, which put an end to the war, on March 18, 1962. The young Depardon had been accredited to the Algerian delegation based in Geneva and immortalized the “time out” of those men in suits smoking in a living room or walking in a park.

Raymond Depardon, Boulevard Bugeaud, Algiers, 1961. (© Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos)

Photos that “belong to history”

It was in 2018, therefore, that Raymond Depardon brought out all these photos and wanted to show them in a book. “I had the impression that these photos did not belong to me, that they should be shared with Algeria, with the Algerians”says Raymond Depardon. “They are neither French nor Algerian, they now belong to History.” But he didn’t want to do “a Franco-French book”. He wanted to involve an Algerian writer in the project and his wife, the director Claudine Nougaret, suggested that he propose it to Kamel Daoud (Goncourt prize for the first novel in 2015 for Meursault, counter-investigation).

“Algeria is often a product derived from its war of decolonization, it is not a country present by itself, it is a country present by its memory”, regrets the writer. For him, his journey with the photographer has been “a rediscovery of my own freedom”. While writing, he challenged himself to look at these photos “without being in exclusive Algerianness, without being in the Franco-Algerian relationship, without being locked in History”. Because for him, “it is a moment of art, of humanity, of complexity, of flesh, of death, of the disappeared, it is not a story of history”.

Kamel Daoud has written texts, large ones, hanging in the center of the exhibition halls, other smaller ones that respond to the photos. He talks about the bodies and the dead, in a country where martyrs are everywhere. Of a kind of complex of “decolonized born long after the end of the war”. From the house, to the village, which “does not really belong to us”, Who “passed from hand to hand”.

Raymond Depardon, Algiers, 2019 (© Raymond Depardon / Magnum Photos)

Giving back an image to Algeria

And then, for the two artists, it was about restoring an image to Algeria, a country that has none. “The French don’t know what Algeria really looks like”said Depardon. “Because few French people go there.” So in 2019 he returned there, to Algiers and Oran where Kamel Daoud lives. To those who were surprised, he replied: “But it’s great, I love Algeria.” And there, “I tried to take the most beautiful photos I could take in my life”, he said. In a country where people don’t really like being photographed by a Frenchman, he was greeted with smiles. He captured street life, the beauty of girls, the furtive gestures of lovers.

The exhibition ends with a film directed by Claudine Nougaret, on an exchange between Raymond Depardon and Kamel Daoud. “We would have liked to make the film in Algeria”, she says. But with the Covid, it was complicated. So the conversation took place on the top floor of the Arab World Institute. “I was lucky enough to witness this budding friendship which I hope will last for a long time”she concludes.

“His eye in my hand, Algeria 1961-2019, Raymond Depardon / Kamel Daoud”
Arab World Institute

1, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard-place Mohammed V, 75005 Paris
Every day except Monday. Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Prices: €8 / €6 / €4
From February 8 to July 17, 2022

His eye in my hand , Editions Barzakh (Algiers) and Editions Images Plurielles (Marseille), 232 pages, 134 photos, €35

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