Our Less Than Perfect Union

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On this day, we commemorate the American colonies’ Declaration of Independence, proclaimed in 1776 out of the ambitious belief that, in this New World, it would be possible to build a nation out of the best elements of the Old World, while eschewing its worst excesses and injustices.

It was a declaration written by racists and slaveholders, by settler colonists who believed themselves superior to the native Americans they slaughtered and displaced, by men who believed women had no place in decisions of public affairs.

Fortunately, they grounded their declaration—and the democratic republic they went on to establish—in nobler values than those they themselves lived by: equality, universal human rights, and government by the governed to uphold those rights. These are ideals that we have continued to strive toward, and that have, at many points, made our country a beacon for others in the world.

Our beacon has flickered and waned considerably this year. But our country’s founding principles remain worth celebrating—and striving toward—this day and every day of the year.

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Film Edition

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Film Edition: Featured photos from @psychedelic_blues_film, @thefilmcommunity, @ioegreer, @meganshootsfilm, @miki_rolleilife, @istillshootfilm_official, @photo.filmy, and @shoot_film_. By @ibnibnbattuta.
This is the fourth and final post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the previous post here: "Global Edition" and "Middle East & North Africa Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

Film is not dead. Grain is good. Buy film, not megapixels. Stay broke, shoot film.

In our digital age, analog photographers are a haughty bunch, fond of slinging around snobby slogans like these to distinguish ourselves from the unwashed camera-phone-wielding masses. (But hey, give us a break, we invest a lot in making our images, and we cherish them dearly, in a way that digital snappers never can!)

Perhaps it seems ironic that genuine film photographers would find a new communal space on Instagram—a digital platform designed to mimic the look of film while sparing users from all its inconveniences. But in fact, as I wrote recently (see "Nostalgia, Inc.: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram"), it has become a surprisingly enjoyable hub for sharing inspiration, insights, and resources among social-media-literate film photographers.

After all, even if we're not a dying breed, we're certainly still a rare one, and widely dispersed. (Not quite unicorns, but maybe snow leopards.)

Based on my observations, film photographers tend to cluster in places that meet three criteria: a thriving creative class (using film is an art), film labs (no point maintaining costly equipment and chemicals without a critical mass of clients), and fatigue with modern technologies (I've observed this backlash against the cold, hard world of digital most often in high-income countries, but it's spreading). Today's analog resistance flourishes in particular pockets worldwide: Japan and Hong Kong in Asia, Paris and Berlin in Europe, New York City and San Francisco in the US. And of course—though it ain't easy—there are thousands of photographers like myself outside these hubs.

This list highlights my favorite film photography accounts on Instagram, selected according to my initial criteria. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Algeria Edition

Thursday, June 21, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Algeria Edition: Featured photos from @vintagealgeria, @amine_ounas, @shadxxws, @toumache, @rananouille, @med_ab_dz, @amar_mehaya, @hosni_hannoun, and @nomads_of_algeria. By @ibnibnbattuta.
This is the third post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the previous posts here: "Global Edition" and "Middle East & North Africa Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

Algeria, North Africa's sleeping giant, is home to some incredibly talented—and unknown—young photographers. While styles vary, there is an emerging class of contemporary artists that, far from shying away from Algeria's ever-present grittiness, embrace it and place it at the very center of their work. The peeling paint, trash-filled alleys, and graffiti-clad ruins that form the backdrop for an ever-growing majority of daily scenes in Algeria's cities and towns become the focus as much as those scenes themselves. Black and white is the favored medium and post-processing is heavy, with contrast jacked way up to highlight gritty textures. (The talented members of the Collective 220 are at the forefront of this movement.)

But in Algeria, as elsewhere, the most talented photographers aren't necessarily the ones behind the best Instagram accounts.

Today's best Algerian photographers overlap with a second group, composed of hardcore enthusiasts. These Instagrammers trend young and are still experimenting, mimicking their peers and idols, and donning and shedding new styles from week to week. They tend to be far too enamored with Adobe LightRoom, favoring an unnatural HDR-heavy aesthetic that isn't my favorite. But they are undeniably expanding the platform, driving usage up in a country where internet penetration is low (even by the standards of the region) but growing fast, where Facebook still dominates the social media landscape, and where photography itself is an exercise fraught with social obstacles.

Algeria's presence on Instagram is still evolving, and hasn't yet matured to the standard of many other countries in the region. Few accounts here can yet compete with the rigorous curation, professional style, or consistent quality of those I shared in my Middle East & North Africa or Global lists, but I expect that will come in time. Here are some of my current favorites, which are certainly well worth following for an inside glimpse into this relatively unknown country. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Middle East & North Africa Edition

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Middle East & North Africa category: Featured photos from @hafid.marouane, @thekarimphoto, @tasneemalsultan, @arabictypography, @layasmeen, @yasmineharzallah, @strollingplaces, @zamaaan, and @yoriyas.
This is the second post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. See the first post here: "Global Edition". For information on my selection criteria, see "Intro".

In this day and age, anyone who wants to properly understand the greater Middle East & North Africa must first move there, then spend a great deal of time unlearning all that he or she learned back home in order to start again with a fresh perspective and develop a vision more grounded in the region's singular cultural realities. Elsewhere, so much misleading, unfounded, and downright wacky BS is written and shared about this region that it's best to simply experience it for oneself in order to distinguish fact from fiction.

But for those unable to experience it firsthand, the next best thing is to tap media that give a more accurate picture. Instagram is no exception to all this. Whether you're in the region or far away, my recommendation is to follow accounts that present the region (at least somewhat) as its citizens experience it. The accounts in this list can certainly help. Don't expect to see a lot of camels in the desert—expect better.

One way I gain a new, deeper perspective on the region is by following women photographers. In a region with more gender segregation than my own country, it can be especially insightful to follow women, who gain access to a different set of places and moments than I can.

Even if many countries in the region are enduring difficult periods, real life need not always be ugly. As these accounts show, there are many beautiful moments across the Middle East & North Africa every day, sometimes even where you would least expect it.

Moroccans and Tunisians show some strong game, and thus are overrepresented in this list, but it also includes Egyptian, Bahraini, Lebanese, Saudi, Emirati, and Iranian artists and more. (Algerians get their own entry all to themselves, so aren't included here.) Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Global Edition

Friday, June 15, 2018

Global category: Featured photos from @arnaudmontagard, @theadventurehandbook, @toby.harvard, @lucylaucht, @rjisely, @romdilon, @boy.hill, @cedricroux, and @lifeof_riley. By @ibnbnbattuta.
This is the first post in my "Instagram Favorites" series. To understand how I chose them, see "Intro".

Confession: I did a terrible job whittling this list down. This first installment of my "Instagram Favorites" series was certainly the hardest to keep brief, given all the amazing photographers out there.

And long as it is, this list isn't even complete. Missing from it are my favorite film photographers' accounts, my favorite accounts from the Middle East and North Africa, and with them my favorites from Algeria. Stay tuned—I'll be highlighting those categories in special posts in the coming days.

This list includes my favorite aggregator and individual accounts from the "general" category. While individual accounts are self-explanatory, aggregator accounts (my term, since I couldn't find a better one elsewhere) are those that combine works from many artists, providing a wider range of perspectives, styles, and inspiration. As a content creator myself, I only follow those that give proper attribution. Beyond that requirement, I simply try to follow aggregators that balance diversity of perspectives with consistently high quality.

The accounts below don't necessarily belong to the world's best photographers, nor are they the ones with the greatest audiences. (Some have just a few hundred followers!) But to the last, they conform to the criteria I outlined in the introduction to this series, and they're just really damn stimulating. Enjoy:

Ibn Ibn Battuta's Instagram Favorites: Intro

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

In my last post ("Nostalgia, Inc: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram"), I delved deep into my generation's peculiar nostalgic urges, and meditated on what is perhaps our favorite outlet for filtering our present world through the lens of the past—Instagram.

But to be fair, not all users see the platform as a vehicle for plunging into that sepia-tinted retroscape. Aesthetic preferences on Instagram vary as widely as the personalities behind the accounts.

While writing that last post and pondering the platform a little more deeply, I started wondering: As both a creator and consumer of photography, what kinds of images do I love?

One thing led to another, and soon I found myself scrutinizing every account I follow, shedding nearly all of them and whittling my bloated list down to just the best of the best, which I've decided to share with you here. In the next few days, I'll be presenting my absolute favorites in hopes that you might enjoy them as much as I do. Stay tuned!

But first, a quick note on how I chose them—based on how I use Instagram and what I seek as inspiration for my own creative pursuits:

Nostalgia, Inc: Photography and Analog Defiance in the Age of Instagram

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Old technology in a new century: An antique film camera is not a mere tool for creating photographs, but an object unto itself, worthy of preservation and marvel. And yes, it takes gorgeous photos.
Oddly enough, as the turn of the last century fades into memory and we sink our teeth fully into the meat of this mad new era, my generation sometimes seems to be looking only backward.

Consider the hipster, that enduring (if not endearing) Brooklyn- or Beirut- or Bangkok-dwelling icon of us older Millennials. Globally, there are many variations. The most stereotypical one—the American male version—patronizes classic barber shops, sports a (faux-)vintage wardrobe heavy on flannel, rides a fixie, listens to vinyl, subsists on artisanal lattés and craft cocktails and organic produce, and meticulously grooms his lumberjack beard. And of course, if he owns a camera other than his treasured iPhone, it's sure to be an antique film camera.

Our cohort's animating ethos, if one could boil it down, seems simple: The good old days have never looked better.

People and Stories: "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" Edition

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Watch the full "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" episode on YouTube.
Last night, Algerian television channel El Djazairia One aired a 90-minute edition of its regular Arabic-language talk show "People and Stories" ("Ness w Hyakat - ناس وحكايات") on the theme of "Foreigners Who Love Algeria" ("أجانب يحبون الجزائر").

I joined Magdoulina from Russia, Jérôme from France, Georges the pied noir of Maltese origin, Hirofumi from Japan, and a local sociologist as guests on the show, which we taped several days earlier in a studio outside Algiers. Interspersed throughout the dialogue were short video profiles the producers had previously recorded at our homes, complete with interviews of our friends. (Thank you to my dear friend Mohamed for his kind words about me!)

While the episode's theme might sound innocuous to outsiders, in this peculiar country it proved provocative—just as the show's producers knew it would. How so? Because the suggestion that foreigners could love Algeria, simply and without reserve, conflicts with the traumatized affection that quite a few Algerians feel for their country, which they love out of genuine patriotism but nonetheless seek to flee, propelled by frustration and lack of opportunity. Allow me to explain: