Photographs at M Suite Hotel

Monday, October 29, 2018 | Dar El Beïda, Algiers, Algeria

A series of my film photos now grace the walls at the M Suite Hotel, a chic property that opened this month in Dar El Beïda, on the eastern outskirts of Algiers.

To stand apart from the depressingly sterile hotels sprouting up across the capital's suburbs, the M Suite owner chose to highlight Algeria's diverse beauty as the hotel's core concept, selecting different cities and regions as themes for the hotel's 52 rooms. It's a concept I was—no surprise here—eager to contribute to.

For nearly a year, I've been working closely with the hotel's artistic team (from Al Marhoon Gallery) to select and prepare works, ultimately printing and framing several dozen that now hang in rooms celebrating the architectural, natural, and cultural splendor of places like Biskra, Taghit, Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Adrar, and more.

Best of all, my photos stand alongside works from great homegrown photographers, as well as pieces by eminent modern Algerian artists like Mohamed Belaid, Rachid Koraichi, Hamza Bounoua, El Moustache, and others. These works complement built-in architectural accents—from a multi-story moucharabieh screen to each room's unique combination of vivid tiles and and elegant wall inlays—that give the hotel's modern aesthetic an unmistakably local flair.

Featured in "Veiled, Unveiled!" Exhibit

Thursday, October 18, 2018 | Vienna, Austria

Verhüllt, enthüllt! Das Kopftuch @ Weltmuseum Wien
A photo I took early in my Algeria days is featured in an exhibit opening today at the Weltmuseum Wien, the ethnographic museum in Vienna, Austria.

The exhibition, entitled "Veiled, Unveiled!" (such enthusiasm!) features works on the female headscarf ("just a piece of cloth but laden with countless facets of meaning") from its earliest origins to Jewish and Christian traditions to Islam and its association with recent waves of immigration to Austria and the wider EU.

My contribution, a print from one of my early Rolleicord film photos, dates back to a March 2014 cultural event organized by Algerian artist Souad Douibi's Belaredj collective. There, at Souad's direction, young women donned the traditional Algerian haïk—a relic of their grandmothers' era that has nearly disappeared from the streets of Algiers today—and reenacted Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" before parading through downtown. (I'm honored that my photo will appear in the exhibit alongside one by the talented Francis Sistiague, who invited me to that first Belaredj event.)

To see my photo and all the other works, visit the Weltmuseum! The exhibit runs from today through February 26, 2019. Location, hours, and other information are available here.

Marrying the Platypus

Saturday, September 29, 2018 | Kassel, Germany

Nina & Andrew, September 8, 2018 (photo credit: D. Michelmann)
"If you were an animal, which would you be? Which one fits your character best?"

It was August 2016, and Nina and I were lounging with our friend Tania on the grass beside a hotel pool in Algiers, chatting idly as the shadows stretched longer in the late afternoon sun. Over two years had already passed since I had met Nina one evening at the spectacularly unromantic British Embassy pub here. We had taken our first trip together (to Croatia) just weeks later, moved in together the following spring, accepted new contracts so we could stay on in Algiers, and acquired our first dog soon after.

That afternoon, Tania answered her question first—"a tortoise"—and justified her choice (entirely needlessly, since it fit her so perfectly) in her syrupy, melodious Portuguese accent. Next, I vacillated before eventually mumbling something moronic about golden retrievers and raccoons. But when Nina's turn came, she answered decisively: "A platypus."

Chorba Meets Bourek: The Family Grows

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Ever since the fateful night, three long years ago, when Nina and I adopted and eventually named Bourek (see "Bourek Meets World"), we've half-joked about getting him a little sister and naming her "Chorba." Doing so—as anyone who's visited Algeria can tell you—would complete the traditional Algerian Ramadan meal of bourek (local spring rolls) and chorba, the tomato-based soup that accompanies them. In Algeria, the pair are as inseparable as spaghetti and meatballs, burgers and fries, or sushi and soy sauce.

Nina, who developed a penchant for rescuing lost animals during her enchanted childhood in Egypt and India, claimed (dubiously) that acquiring a second dog couldn't possibly double the amount of work it takes us to care for a single one.

Unswayed by that math, for several years I resisted her steady pressure campaign, which was fed by a steady stream of images of forlorn street dogs shared online by a local humane society called "El Rifk" (Arabic for "kindness"). Then two weeks ago, Nina's birthday arrived, and my resistance waned.

The family was about to get a little bigger.

"Algeria Viewed By An American"

Friday, August 3, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria

Andrew in Tassili National Park, southeast Algeria, March 2018.
Hard though it is for me to believe, this spring I passed the 5-year mark in Algeria. Time flies when you're having fun.

After all these years living here and exploring the country, I have collected plenty of insights about the place—and about how it looks from an outsider's eyes. Visas & Voyages Algérie (a new web portal offering information for foreigners seeking to visit Algeria and for Algerians traveling abroad) recently interviewed me and published an article ("Tourisme : l'Algérie vue par un Américain") on my view of the country and its potential as a tourist destination.

My English translation is below. Bonne lecture!

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

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: