Marc Garanger, was a photographer for ten years already, when he found himself in a most awkward dilemma. In 1960, he was a young man of 25 years trying to put off his service in the French army as long as possible. As this became more difficult to delay, he eventually found himself enlisted, but with the saving grace as his regiment’s photographer. Garanger had just joined the Algerian War of Independence.
Taking place was the assault on mountain villages that were home to around two million people. Some of these residents were believed to be Algerian resistance forces. As general Maurce Challes ordered the offensive, he commanded that the villages be destroyed to prevent the rebels from having any contact with their families. The captured Algerians were herded into regroupment villages that were thinly disguised concentration camps. To keep track of them, identity cards were ordered for each one, necessitating a photograph of every captured villager. As the regiment photographer, this task fell on Garanger’s lap.
“Either I refused and went to prison, or I accepted. I understood my luck: it was to be a witness, to make pictures of what I saw that mirrored my opposition to the war. I saw that I could use what I was forced to do, and have the pictures tell the opposite of what the authorities wanted them to tell.”
The predicament Garanger faced was photographing the women. They were either Berber or Musilm and had been basically sheltered from any outside contact. Their faces were hidden most of their lives behind veils, which were taken off only in the confines of their homes, revealing themselves exclusively to fellow women, or to their husband. The veil obscured to the rest of the world what was considered culturally and spiritually sacred. An atrocious violation of that custom would soon take place with the pictures decreed to be taken.
The silent, cold stare elicited by the camera speaks volumes of their world subjected to traumatic change. It is a frighteningly defiant look that runs ominously deep, and is foreboding in its gaze. Stripped naked of this sacred custom, it is no less brutal than a savage rape.
In 2004, Garanger returned to Algeria with the intention of once again meeting those he had photographed. As he was reunited with some of the women he photographed, time seems to have dulled the pain as they welcomed his return. His pictures ironically turn out to be the only images ever taken of these women.
Marc Garanger’s work can be viewed here.