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:

In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | Tindouf, Algeria (map)

Who could possibly take offense at a McDonald's Happy Meal?

Back in December 2008—a few months into my year-and-a-half stay in Morocco—the country's government was livid when it discovered what toys McDonald's was distributing to kids across the North African kingdom. McDonald's, it turned out, had innocently decided to serve up their local Happy Meals with small plastic maps of Morocco. Just one problem: in Morocco, the map doesn't look like it does anywhere else. Instead, it includes Western Sahara: a vast, sparsely populated expanse of sand and minerals that Morocco vehemently insists constitutes its own "southern provinces"—even if no other country officially recognizes that claim.

The dispute stretches back to—you'll never guess!—the colonial era, when Western Sahara was a Spanish colony. When domestic and international pressures obliged Spain to relinquish the territory in the mid-1970s, Western Sahara fell prey to regional rivalries. Neighboring Morocco and Mauritania swept in, asserting dubious historical claims over the territory. While Mauritania wasn't able to maintain its possession, Morocco made annexation of the Western Sahara its national mission. In 1976, King Hassan II launched the Green March, in which

Americans in Algeria Speaking Arabic

Saturday, January 27, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

Interviewing July Blalack at Allaqta's studio in Algiers.
One of the perks and peculiarities of being one of just a handful of Americans here in Algeria is that I get a lot of interesting cold calls from the few American tourists who pass through. Given how little is written on Algeria in English, it makes sense; many English speakers who Google the country land here at my blog sooner or later.

Last summer there were Jeff and Steve, a pair of adventurous guys from Minnesota who had stumbled upon ultra-cheap roundtrip Minneapolis-Algiers tickets and bought them before doing any research. (After they reached out to ask, more or less, "Did we just make a crazy mistake?" I reassured them that they hadn't, and helped them map out an exhilarating 10-day itinerary. We met for lunch on their last day in Algiers. It was great fun all around.)

Not long after, Daniel, an LA-based friend-of-a-friend, got in touch about visiting the Sahraoui refugee camps in Tindouf. I gave him some contacts and advice on logistics, and he ended up taking me with him on his trip! (More on that to come very soon. Update: Read now: "In Tindouf Refugee Camps, Resignation and Frustration Do Battle")

For Sale: "Algeria 2018" Wall Calendars

Thursday, January 18, 2018 | Algiers, Algeria (map)

With all my travels and projects in 2017 (ahem, not to mention my day job), free time was at a premium last year. Among other things, it was a challenge to piece together enough hours to prepare my annual Algeria photo calendar. Hoping to gain a little time, I called on a friend's communication agency here in Algiers to help with production... and let's just say it didn't pan out as planned.

But the show must go on! So I have printed an extremely limited run of Algeria 2018 calendars, complete with 12 of my film photos taken across the country and brief accompanying texts. They will be on sale starting from this Saturday, January 20, at two locations in Algiers:
International sales will unfortunately not be available this year. However, I will be holding a free global giveaway via Instagram in the coming days. Follow me at @ibnibnbattuta to participate!

Looking Back on 2017, and Ahead to 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Well, 2017 sure flew by.

Between all my work here in Algiers and travels near and far, it was a blur of a year.

Early in the year, Nina and I partied with friends in Beirut, celebrated a friend's wedding in Rome, hiked Cinque Terre, and explored Paris. Within Algeria, I visited Biskra and El Oued for the first time and returned several times to Oran, among other destinations.

Over the summer, I finally made my first visit to Egypt—and enjoyed it so much that I convinced Nina to return for the year-end holidays. (Now that I've developed my film, expect many photos and stories to follow shortly!)

I also made several trips to the US, including (most exciting of all) the East Coast book tour with Algerian independence hero Zohra Drif and the Just World Books team to promote Inside the Battle of Algiers, my English translation of Mme Drif's memoir, released worldwide in September. While my translation didn't make the