Camera chronicles: The photographer who captured the historic revolution of Egypt
The Arab Spring-inspired revolution in Egypt that resulted in the historical political upheaval, was about the struggle of the Egyptian people. During the 18-day-long revolution in 2011, Tahrir Square became the centre of action. It was from the square a battle for hopes and aspirations was being fought against the 30-year-old regime of then president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak.
During the revolution, the leading newspapers of the country were filled with headlines such as “Dear mother if I die don’t cry — I will dies so my country can live” (Al-Masry Al-Youm) and “In all languages — leave” (Al-Shorouk). The events that enfolded during the course of days resulted in Mubarak’s resignation and the square erupted in joy and celebrations. This moment of triumph came with ample sacrifices — many Egyptians lost their lives and thousands were injured in the struggle of tumultuous crowd against Egyptian Armed Forces and Mubarak’s supporters.
The photographer, Laura El Tantawy, was in the fourth year of her photography project during the days of the revolution. She was witnessing the Egypt of her childhood undergoing a drastic change right before her eyes. Her work embodies a new Egypt that fought for its dignity and respect through the formation of raucous and courageous human anthills in Cairo. “Egypt of my childhood was innocent and the one from the revolution was bloody — it was a very different version of Egypt that I was witnessing. This is the story of Egypt through my personal perspective. And it’s a very intimate project. I reached a stage where I could not understand what was happening around me,” says the photographer.
About her project, the photographer who was born in England and grew up in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States says, “My work is a reflection of Egypt through my own eyes and shouldn’t be seen as a reflection of the true spirit of Egypt.” As for the revolution, she believes, it was a triumph of people against a regime, which had kept them shackled for decades.
In a way photography is a way of being one with the reality, capturing experiences and giving them permanence. Due to the revolution, Laura’s project took a different direction. And Laura, with her photographs, has managed to capture the most critical chapter in the history of Egypt. “I prefer the work to speak for itself. I am proud of my work, which allows people to engage with a chapter of Egypt’s history, and also keeps it alive. So in a way it was about capturing the intensity of the situation, what I was seeing and experiencing.”
In 2005, she came up with her book of photographs, In the Shadow of the Pyramids, where in her poetry complements the images that speak volumes. Recently, some of her works were also showcased in association with Art Heritage Gallery at Triveni Kala Sangam in Delhi. About her experience of curating the show, she says, “It was exciting as it is always to curate the show because it allows me to look at the work again from a new perspective.”
Does being a woman, she feared stepping out with a camera during the revolution? “There was no question [of fear] I had to be there. I wanted to bring alive the sensation of Tahrir Square. I knew I was feeling something that I will carry with myself all my life.”