Rolleicord Photos: The Haïk and the Revolution

Thursday, November 20, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Some 50 participants, including women and men, processed down the main street of downtown Algiers.
On November 1, Algerians celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of their war for independence, and here in Algiers local artists collective "Belaredj" organized a street performance to celebrate the haïk, the traditional women's dress of Algeria.

I was pleased to spend the last day of my 20s tagging along and snapping pictures of the event with my Rolleicord. And, although I still can't find anywhere to develop the film here in Algiers, I just found a chance to do so on a long weekend in Marseille.

As I expected, the results were decent but not spectacular. (And certainly not as strong as those from the last event.) The group had been marching too quickly for me to take proper, well focused shots with my antique camera, whose knobs require significant fiddling to take sharp portraits.

But for all the fumbling it requires, the Rolleicord has its upsides. It attracted plenty of attention from the participants, making it the perfect tool for soliciting portraits. I walked past one woman in haïk just as she was telling a seedy male passerby that no, under no circumstances would she open up her haik and show him her face for a quick photo. But as soon as I passed with my camera, she

Come With Me To The Casbah

Monday, November 10, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

"Typiquement algérois": The Casbah is the heart and soul of the Algerian capital's traditional culture.
Back in my mom's basement in Baltimore, somewhere in a crate full of foreign coins, postcards, and other odd trinkets that I have accumulated in my travels, there is also a magazine article, its left edge ragged where I tore it from an issue of Smithsonian back in 2007. Called "Save the Casbah", the article is an ode to the famed Casbah of Algiers—and to the community activists, historians, preservationists, and local residents who were then, and are still today, trying to keep the iconic hillside settlement from crumbling into the sea below.

Out of fascination with this part of the world, I saved the article years ago, long before I ever visited Algiers. But living here has given me many chances to explore the Casbah firsthand and get to know its many twists and turns, both physical and imagined.

The Haïk: A Symbol of Algeria's Revolution

Saturday, November 1, 2014 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

One of my shots from the "Moi et Mon Haïk en Ville" event, March 2014.
We Americans only get to celebrate our independence once a year, but Algerians commemorate theirs twice: on the day the country officially won its independence, July 5, but also on the day the revolution against French colonial rule began, November 1. Today marked the 60th anniversary of the start, in 1954, of Algeria's war for independence.

Local artist Souad Douibi, organizer of the street performance/festival I attended in March in celebration of the haïk—the traditional women's dress of Algiers—took the opportunity to hold another such event on this patriotic day. The choice was fitting, given the haïk's central place not just in the aesthetic of 1950s Algeria, but also in the revolution itself. (It turns out a head-to-toe sheet works as well for hiding a guerrilla fighter as it does for hiding a lady. Can't picture it? Go watch The Battle of Algiers!)

As in March, several dozen women, young and old, from around Algiers answered the call to dig out their haïks (or, in many cases, their grandmothers') and assemble this morning for a procession through downtown Algiers. I met them at the