By Caroline Curran
The Jan. 25 Revolution made artists out of many, especially those who brought a camera along. Just weeks on, some of these photographs have been collected in an outstanding exhibition at the Cairo Opera House Art Gallery.
Organized in just a week by curator and photographer Mohamed Mahran with support from donors including celebrated architect Mamdouh Hamza and Minister of Culture Emad Abol Ghazi, this collection of 500 photographs captures the highs and lows of the revolution in stunning shots ranging from the traditional to the unexpected.
The photographs on display were chosen from over 6,000 submissions by a panel of renowned Egyptian photographers. The chosen artists donated their work to the exhibition free of charge.
Covering the period from Jan. 25 to Feb. 11, the photographs chronicle events as they happened in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez, Mahalla and beyond. Familiar scenes of protesters confronting police and Friday prayers in Tahrir are interspersed with shots taken on the periphery of the action, like an image of neighborhood patrol protecting their street or two protesters playing chess in Tahrir Square.
Some of images make the viewer wonder how the photographer wasn’t seriously injured in the process of snapping the shot. Ahmed El Masry’s pictures of the camel and horse attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square seem to defy gravity with their immediacy and clarity — the colors of the camel’s saddle and the riders’ clothing so vivid one momentarily forgets the context.
The fear mongering unleashed on the occupants of Tahrir in the days after Jan. 25 is captured beautifully in Abdel Karim Gheita’s shots of helicopters and fighter jets circling Tahrir Square; a scene so otherworldly it is hard to imagine it ever took place.
The contradictions of life in Tahrir is narrated poignantly by Mohamed Tarek with a portrait of protesters praying, framed by a gutted bus barricading an entrance to the square, and another of a young boy sitting serenely on top of the metro sign, a helicopter whirling menacingly overhead.
Khaled Desouki documents the battleground that was Suez with incredible scenes of the street battles that took place between some of Egypt’s most determined protesters and most aggressive security forces.
Tarek El Faramawy’s shots of Alexandria depict the scale of the protests that took place in the coastal city. One image shows the entire Corniche filled with marching protesters under a blue sky.
Mohamed Mahran’s scenes of events at the Presidential Palace in the final days tell a story that wasn’t accessible to many at the time; his shot of Mubarak on Feb.10, sitting in an armchair in the foreground of his empty desk, is the last, and most telling portrait taken of the former president before the historic announcement of Feb. 11.
And when it was all over, Amr Nabil was in Tahrir Square expertly capturing the jubilant celebrations there, snapping fireworks in the air over a sea of people, newly free.
For donor Mamdouh Hamza, the exhibition is a way to immortalize the accomplishments of the Egyptian protesters for all to see.
“I was in Tahrir Square throughout the revolution and I saw wonderful things happening; people were changing and growing and there were so many photographers recording these important moments for the future. I thought it was important to share these images so that Egyptians and the world can see what we did,” Hamza told the Daily News Egypt.
“The great work of photographers needed to be displayed and celebrated; there are some amazing images that deserve to be seen in Egypt and around the world.”
With its incredible content and enthusiastic backing, it’s no surprise that the exhibition has already attracted significant attention. Following the conclusion of its run at the Opera in a month’s time, the exhibition will travel to various Egyptian governorates as well as Berlin, London and Paris.
The exhibition runs until March 18. Open daily (except Fridays) from 10 am–2 pm and from 4:30 pm–8:30 pm.
Khaled Desouki documents the battleground that was Suez.
An image captured by Amr Nabil.