Cherid Barkaoun, 1961

“Portrait de Cherid Barkaoun” was one of Marc Garanger’s pictures of Algerian women taken in the early 1960s. The image of Barkaoun, “mournful but proud, large eyes kohl-rimmed, hair braided, absently clutching a scarf to her chest as if to keep hold of some sliver of privacy”, as the New York Times put it, reaches across half a century and remains a poignant symbol of oppression by the French and her tribal elders.

In the early 1960s, the French authorities required Algerians to have identity cards. Local unrest was brewing and the authorities believed identity cards would enable them to control and monitor the locals better. A conscript in the French Army, Marc Garanger, was ordered to shoot their portraits.

Garanger was based with his army unit in the isolated village of Bordj Okhriss, 120 kilometres to
the south-east of Algiers. Garanger set out into the Algerian bled — a word derived from Arabic that refers to the countryside  — and photographed some 2,000 Algerians located in the villages and camps de regroupement of Aïn Terzine, Bordj Okhriss, le Mesdour, le Meghnine, S’Bara and Souk el Khrémis. They had been forcibly displaced from their villages into these regroupment camps by the French army, intent to disrupt the support networks between villagers and anti-colonialists.

Since most men had left their villages to join the anti-colonial struggle, the majority of Garanger’s photos are of women. (Barkaoun was one of the two wives of the silversmith of Bordj Okhriss). They had been veiled under chedda* throughout their adult lives until they uncovered themselves for Granger’s camera. If taking these images was a violation to these women and their cultural beliefs, their cultural beliefs themselves were also violation of their individual rights. It turned Mr. Garanger against French rule and through the humanity of his subjects, he conveyed their anger, oppression and resistance.

In 1960, I was doing my military service in Algeria. The French army had decided that the indigenous peoples were to have a French identity card. I was asked to photograph all the people in the surrounding villages. I took photographs of nearly two thousand persons, the majority of whom were women, at a rate of about two hundred a day. The faces of the women moved me greatly. They had no choice. They were required to unveil themselves and let themselves be photographed. They had to sit on a stool, outdoors, before a white wall. I was struck by their pointblank stares, first witness to their mute, violent protest.

To express myself with my eye, I took up my camera. To shout my disagreement. For twenty-four months I never stopped, sure that one day I would be able to testify. To tell stories with these images… all of this I did with more force than the dominant military ideology of the era that surrounded me with hatred and violence. My spirits revolt was proportionate to the horrors that I witnessed.

While on home-leave in 1961, Garanger, with the aid of FLN sympathiser Robert Barrat, went clandestinely into Switzerland with his photographs and six portraits of women later appeared in the Illustré Suisse with a text by Charles-Henri Favrod discussing the social history of the veil and the Algerian women (below). [8 November 1962].

Garanger later photographed the Algerian War (collected in the 1984 book La Guerre d’Algérie vue par un appelé du contingent) and republished his ID photos in 1982 as Femmes algériennes 1960. Lacking any captions, all sitters tagged as ‘Femmes algériennes’, the book was controversial, evoking other colonial practices and perpetuating unveiling of these women. Garanger submitted a selection of his photographs to Prix Niépce one of the most important photography awards in France in 1966 and he won the prize.

Footnote: The women in rural Algeria typically did not wear a face-veil but, if they wished to protect themselves from the gaze of a stranger, they could draw the loose haïk together with their hand.

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4 thoughts on “Cherid Barkaoun, 1961

  1. Oh dear John,
    I mean yes really, if a country tries to colonise another, why should the colonised put up any resistance? Shouldn’t they willingly adopt the policies and culture of the coloniser?
    Oh wait…NO.

  2. Same pathetic bs from simple-minded fools. The Algerians were responsible for the murders of tens of thousands of people – both colonials and their own – and in the end they got exactly what they deserved – a third-world country and 40-more years of constant bloodshed.

    And Garanger? It’s fools like him that have created the world we have today. They haven’t helped it. All they do is justify their own cowardice.

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