Raymond Depardon’s eye and Camel Daoud’s hand

Under the Evian Agreement, March 18, 1962, Raymond Depardon was 19 years old. During the negotiations between France and the FLN, he was one of the rare photographers present during this historic event that ended the war. At the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris, the cult photographer revisits this unique moment with photos taken during his two trips to Algeria, 1961 and 2019, and unpublished texts by the great Algerian author Kamel Daoud.

His eye in my hand. Algeria 1961-2019. The result of this meeting between Raymond Depardon and Kamel Daoud took the form of an exhibition that presented hundreds of photographs and texts that are both “playful and literary”.

RFI: Which was the first photo you took in 1961 on Algerian soil?

Raymond Depardon: It’s a photo in the center of town, in the gardens, in front of the main post office. It was impressive for a young Frenchman who was 19 in 1961. We left Marseille by boat and arrived in a city that is incredibly larger than Marseille. People today can not imagine that it was the same country in the 1960s! So we left a small town in the Mediterranean and arrived at the Bay of Algiers, in a big white town. I got there, in a somewhat curious, anachronistic place. There were Algerians, Africans, plus a million Europeans. It was very strange. The great photographers, my “elders”, they were tired because they were poorly received. It was difficult to take pictures. It was very worrying, because it was a city where French was spoken and at the same time we were not in France. We were disliked, rejected. So I had these photos and I thought it would be good, sixty years after Algeria’s independence, for these pictures to be taken back by the Algerians. They belong to Algeria, to Algerian history.


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RFI: Why do you say that Algeria has no pictures?

Kamel Daoud: Because you have to make an effort to give pictures, you need a policy, a will to do so, a cultural policy, tourism, travel, visas – both ways. The second aspect is that there is a screen effect of the archives, that is, we always see Algeria through its archives during the war of liberation. These archives also form a screen and do not let the present pass. We always talk about the past. Algeria is also a country that is locked in the memory of others. We only talk about it when it comes to colonization or decolonization, rarely nowadays. The news is a bit like the tragedy with the migrant boats, if not the dark decade and the fight against the Islamists and so on. But the real country has no pictures.

[Vidéo] Photographer Raymond Depardon in one word, one gesture and one silence

Why your photos taken under the Evian agreement have become iconic in Algeria?

Raymond Depardon: When I showed these pictures to the Algerians, it was the second shock. They told me: “All these characters are dead. All the negotiators on the Algerian side are no longer there.” [Krim Belkacem, chef historique du FLN qui a signé l’acte d’indépendance de l’Algérie, a été assassiné en 1970 par la Sécurité militaire algérienne, NDLR] They were more or less all fired, even executed, because they did not agree with the power afterwards. In the pictures, these people are very happy, super well-dressed. At that time I had never seen such Algerians, nice, speak French, we could take all the pictures we wanted. I was in this villa, on the Swiss side, opposite Evian. And every morning there was a helicopter that commuted.

RFI: You did not go to war. Born in Mostaganem in 1970, you are a child of independence. For your joint project His eye in my hand. Algeria 1961-2019, you say you wrote lyrics “playful and literaryWhat role do your words have in relation to the pictures of Raymond Depardon??

Kamel Daoud: When we look at a photo, we do it with his person, his objectivity, his culture, his prejudices, his conditioning. A photo always wakes up. A photo always evokes text, emotions, nostalgia. Even a photo of an unknown landscape evokes a reflection, an affect, a feeling, sensations. For me, it was a matter of writing texts that do not add anything to the photo, because it is self-sufficient, without writing texts that are based on the photo to end up in something else. . Texts that revolve around the photo, but which are accompanying texts rather than commentary or reflection texts. I did not want to limit the reader’s or visitor’s gaze, but just say: that’s how I feel. At the same time, I wanted to free my eyes. Everyone should feel free to look at these pictures as they wish. Instead of looking at them through its culture or just the usual history or clichés.

In 2019, when you returned to Algiers, you ever thought of a photo you absolutely wanted to take?

At the invitation of the Algerians, we returned to the streets of Algiers and Oran. Show me your street and I’ll tell you who you are. As Kamel Daoud says, “Algeria has no pictures! We do not know what Algeria looks like.”

Raymond Depardon / Kamel Daoud: His eye in my hand. Algeria 1961-2019, exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA), in Paris, until July 17, 2022. The book is co-published by Barzakh and Images Plurielle.

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