North Africa


Fierce Friday: Marc Garanger's Femmes Algeriennes 1960

In 1960, at the end of the Algerian War, photographer Marc Garanger was posted with the French Army in the small Kabylian settlement of Ain Terzine, one of the 'regroupment villages' into which mountain dwellers had been forced to keep members of the resistance from communicating. It was soon decided that these resettled people should carry mandatory identity cards as is the case in France; Garanger was tasked with photographing each of the 2,000 Berber and Muslim villagers over a period of ten days. The resulting portraits of the women in particular have formed a powerful record of that conflict. 

The villagers had never come into contact with Europeans or, presumably, cameras. The women were forced to remove their veils for the photographs, exposing their hair and protective tattoos, and to sit on a stool in front of a whitewashed wall while a strange man standing only three feet away pointed a strange instrument at their faces. The looks they gave it are their own extraordinary account of their feelings and experiences.

Algeria gained independence on 5 July 1962.

Facial tattooing such as that visible in the images is an ancient practice among Berber people, which has waned with the influence of Islam but is now more commonly replicated using temporary means such as henna. The tattoos, each of which has a specific meaning, offer protection from the Evil Eye and from spirits who might possess the wearer, being placed at points on the body where they might otherwise enter. 

Jewelry is traditionally a central element of Berber women's cultural identity and the large and numerous pieces worn feature a mixture of precious stones such as turquoise, amber and coral, glass beads, silver, coins and enamel. A noted contemporary Berber jeweller is Karim Oukid Ouksel, whose highly intricate filigree and enamel pieces reflect the motifs of typical Kabylian textiles and objects, as well as evoking their originating culture.