The French photographer Marc Garanger, best known for his 1960 series on Algerian women, began his career while serving in the army. He was assigned to Algiers in 1960, right as France was beginning to accept that the jewel of its North African empire was fated to achieve independence. The inevitably of this outcome caused Garanger’s superiors no shortage of bile; one bitter commander, in particular, accidentally motivated Garanger to commit himself to making art that vibrated with empathy:
When the army forced villagers to abandon their homes and to build new ones around the French army’s barracks, Garanger’s commander asked the photographer to catalog all villagers to produce mandatory ID cards. “In 10 days I took 2000 images,” Garanger tells BJP. “The first days the portraits I took showed the women with their veils on. When I showed the image to the commander, he asked for the veils to be removed.” It was, for the photographer, yet another colonising move from the French army, echoing, he says, Edward Curtis’ images of Native Americans. “I felt it was a similar story. Curtis took images of a people being massacred by another. I wanted to show the violence of this war, not physical violence, but the violence imposed on these women.”
Upon seeing the final images, Garanger’s captain suddenly stood up screaming: “Come see, come see how ugly they are. They look like monkeys.” Upon hearing this, Garanger swore he would spend the rest of his life proving his captain wrong.
More from Garanger’s Algerian series here. It’s a collection I’ve been looking at a lot as I plow through the second draft of my next book.