It was the winter of 2010-2011. Humanity was rising. In 7-9 months we would have the Occupy Movement, now it was the Arab Spring: Protests, masses and the social media. Hope. Change. Something good in this world that was worth fighting for.
Against this backdrop the work of Laura El-Tantawy suddenly fell into my world. Her words and pictures appeared in Burn Magazine, painterly floating across my computer screen. It was Cairo, it was Tahrir and it truly seemed like freedom.
Fast forward 4-5 years, El-Tantawy has just published her first book. A photobook named In the Shadow of the Pyramids. I bought it a week ago at DokFoto (Litteraturhuset) where Laura was one of the stage preforming photographers attending the festival.
Wow Laura, you’ve made a book!
First sidestepping the obvious (El-Tantawy’s images) the book is a beautiful piece of craft and art all by itself. Full of texture, warmth, weight. Depth. Deep red hues of street lights, sunsets, love, sunrises, flags and blood.
This is where I have come for a cure since childhood.
A panoramic view over downtown Cairo.
El-Tantawy went black home, remaking her Egyptian roots, in 2005. This happens to be the very same year the movement the rest of the world got knowing at Tahrir Square, started evolving into something bigger than a whisper. The newest photographs in the book date to 2014. Nearly a decade of work, in other words.
In between the picture-filled pages there are little snippets of text and childhood family photos. We get to read thoughts and glimpses of conversations Laura had during the years the project lasted.
When people took to the streets on January 25, 2011.
I had to be among them.
It was a moment when my past, present and future
came together as never before.
At Litteraturhuset she told the audience that whenever she really needed to express herself, when things and thoughts got messy, she’d always turned to writing. In the book her words fill the role of a timeline, they are all presented alongside the date of which they were written. From the hope and joy at the beginning towards a more frustrating end.
To me, In the Shadow of the Pyramids presents itself as a tactile manifestation of its creator’s memories and experiences. El-Tantawy shows us pieces of her reality in a personal manner, perhaps the way she knows best how to communicate. I can’t but feel grateful holding her finished product in my hands.
And about her photos?
You may ask.
They are like impressionist paintings of night time,
only that they are not. Paintings.