Algeria: the smile revolution, the Disneyland photographers


The Hirak (Algerian peace movement), also called Revolution of the smile, was from the first day a matter of images. The Internet was cut off this Friday, February 22, preventing the circulation of data that have nevertheless spread through mobile phones, but also thanks to the mobilized photographers. Their signatures are now famous. These eyes of the revolution share as a weekly ritual their shoots with an ever wider audience.

For Lydia Saidi, a young 25-year-old photographer working in an audiovisual company in Algiers, the word "famous" is a bit strong. Having joined this field less than two years ago, she prefers to say that the Hirak "participated better to make it known, that's all! ". This passionate of documentary and artistic photography saw the birth of this movement in this afternoon of February, as incredible as unexpected.

"Living a little way from the capital, I managed to get there early and wait, without being sure that something was going to happen. And I saw an incredible crowd pouring on the capital. Men, women, children from all walks of society walked together. The demonstration was eventually suppressed with tear gas and arbitrary arrests, but the famous label "Silmiya, pacific" was born. It was the signature of a movement that wants to be pacifist despite everything, "she recalls at Sputnik's microphone.

Among the moments immortalized by this young photographer, this cliche taken before the advance of the young towards the city center, where the uncertainty, the fear and … the barricades of police were on the horizon.

"It's the photo that touches me the most because it reminds me two moments. The first is that of uncertainty, where we did not know yet whether violence would be at the rendezvous or not. The second is that of a very beautiful gesture of solidarity. Just after taking the picture, a terrible jostling took place. I was protected by these same young people who formed a shield and told me "do not be afraid, do not be afraid!", "She said.

                    Photo. Lydia Saidi

Hirak, February 22, 2019

At first, I thought it was a mirage

Like her, Louiza Ammi, great name of Algerian photojournalism, held her breath at the sight of the human tide flocking to the meeting place indicated in social networks, the Place du 1er-Mai.

"When I saw people coming in, I did not believe it. I thought it was a mirage! I thought that the people were vaccinated since the events of October 5, 1988 (popular uprising, ed) and the black decade (civil war 1992-1999). It was the "11-December" for me (demonstrations of December 11, 1960, before the independence of Algeria, ed). The image in front of me was that of a movie poster. I had a fever. I took a few minutes to pull myself together and take out my camera. Afterwards, I told myself that I should have filmed and not just photographed, "says Sputnik's microphone in a breathless voice, one that has covered the strongest events that the country has known since October 5, 1988.

This last date has remained stamped in the spirit and flesh of Samir Sid, a renowned photographer in the evening of Algeria, which the Hirak has popularized more. Met in his office, this professional, who has 26 years of experience, shows us the after effects of a bullet received in his left arm, on October 5, 1988, when he was only 16 years old.

Samir Sid began his career in the sports press in 1993 before moving to the general press. He already has 17 exhibitions abroad and only one in Algeria. For him, this revolution – as he likes to call it – is part of a completely different era. It is that of image and succinctness.

"The rising generation works according to our popular saying: show me and do not tell me!", He retains.

He travels around the main boulevards and avenues of the meeting places twenty or so times in search of the most relevant and relevant messages that correspond to the news of the week.

By making the latest edits to his photos before they are published, calls fuse and messages on social networks follow one another. When are the photos? His audience is impatient.

Indeed, it's been eight months since Samir invariably provides the images of the Friday and students on Tuesday to his followers. He is busy with his software. It's past 7pm: Samir is already late! But that does not stop him every time to read the words of encouragement and congratulations from the anonymous. "A dream moment in a photographer's career," he savored.

"This revolution is a perfect opportunity, I would even say a Disneyland for photographers. We have within reach a great event that has been going on for eight months. We can exploit all the talents. There is enough to make books, exhibitions, etc. We are the media media of the revolutionaries. If they have to go out every day, I'll go out every day! "He promises.

Unlike him, Ali Laskri is not required to a weekly appointment. This other successful photographer goes down to events nine out of ten in search of the rare moment. His shots are a resounding success as soon as they go online. We met him during the Friday songs, advocates and festive. It is in these scenes that this professional computer scientist goes to conquer the quintessence of the movement.

"I have been practicing photography for ten years for love and passion. I walk to capture an emotion, an action … But I will not be disappointed if I return without having taken one because my satisfaction lies in a photo that expresses a lot, a photo worthy of the name! And my satisfaction grows with the reactions it arouses on social networks, especially through expressions, decryptions, comments from people and the titles they give it, "he said at the microphone of Sputnik.

That day, his photo was once again voted "photo of the day" by Internet users.

                    Photo. Ali Laskri

Protesters get refreshed by water jets from the balconies, on a scorching afternoon of Ramadan on May 10, 2019

Ali is the author of the cover cliche that marked the spirits during the first demonstration of the month of Ramadan this year (month of fasting for Muslims). While we feared the decline in mobilization because of the heat and thirst, photos like those of Ali quickly deconstructed this fear and showed that the marches continued indeed, always in good mood.

"I was walking in Algiers on that afternoon of Ramadan when I came across a crowd being watered from the balconies. It was hot, the fasters must be thirsty and the inhabitants refreshed them in their own way. This action marked me. I have seen people as I like to see them. They were laid back, forgotten. And how difficult it is to meet such relaxed people, in a time of carelessness – because knowing that they will be photographed changes their behavior – I realized it was the right time. It reminded me that I have some pictures with the sun and joy effect. I directly imagined how the result would be, "he says.

The dynamism of today's Algerian photographic scene was once unimaginable, Louiza Ammi reminds us.

"During the 1990s, it was very risky to take out your camera. People were hiding, refused to be photographed. Today, protesters come to us and are in demand. We do our work freely and at leisure, "she compares.

                    Photo. Louisa Ammi

A Friday of Hirak

However, Louiza, who was one of the few women photographers during the civil war, notes that the constraints and difficulties are growing over the weeks. They are reflected in the arrests to which photographers and journalists are subject, the prohibition of filming from balconies and access to certain places, among others.

Where the danger is, is the photo

Difficulties, Toufik Doudou seeks them and brave them to capture the unique moment. His pictures, all buzz, are taken following his flair. "Where I feel the danger, an adrenaline rush, is the photo!", He says.

Toufik Doudou, one of the imposing signatures of this Hirak, started early, at the age of 16, in photojournalism and photo reporting. His breakthrough came in the sports field, including accompanying Ultras Mouloudia Algiers (dean of Algerian football teams). He was propelled to the summit last April, when he took the crowd of demonstrators demanding the departure of the figures of the former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from the gate of the Grande Poste, one of the main monuments of Algiers built in 1910. Became viral as soon as it was published, internet users have named it "L'Arc de la Grande Poste".

"That day, there were a lot of people. I think we were 2 million. I was at the top of the stairs of the Grande Poste. I raised my head. I saw in an instant all the heritage representing the history and identity of our country. With this neo-Moorish architecture, these arcades carved with calligraphy representing verses of the Koran and, on the other side, the crowd, I soon wanted to pay tribute to heritage, architecture and mobilization. At that moment, I asked young people who were clinging to the porticoes to help me get on. I was dizzy at first, I was in a risky position because part of my foot was leaning on the wood, the other was in the void. I took the cliches quickly and I went down again, "he tells Sputnik's microphone.

                    Photo. Toufik Doudou

Arc of the Great Post

A great success awaited Toufik as soon as it was published. Yet this thirty is well used to the buzz. Working for a photography agency known in the country, he does not hide his pride by telling his story: photos presented at an exhibition of Ultras in Paris, exclusive for high Algerian personalities, but also risk taking as in the terrorist attack on the Tiguentourine gas field in January 2013, or the interethnic tensions in Ghardaïa (2013).

However, the success of Toufik is tainted by the wave of insults and criticism that has fallen on photographers and journalists since the beginning of Hirak. The flip side of celebrity he did not see coming.

In reality, as much of the national press is on the side of the Algerian power, the protesters, in return, sometimes verbally attacked journalists and photographers in the field. But Louiza Ammi and Samir Sid observe that these insults directed at the information professionals have registered a decline in recent weeks.

"The demonstrators have learned to filter. They recognize us, have adopted us, and they are the ones who protect us, "Louiza says.

For Lydia Saidi, the Hirak especially offered an incredible experience, that of photographing events both happy, but sometimes very tense. What prompted her to develop new gestures and reflexes.

Determination and pacifism

If the Hirak has been of great professional contribution in the career of photographers, they have each been seized by moments, events, moments or images.

For Toufik Doudou and Samir Sid, it is the determination displayed by the people that was most striking in their eyes.

"I see young people walk tirelessly, angrily, since February 22, without missing any Friday. They leave work, family, commitments and come to Hirak. Many arrive from abroad regularly. For them and for others, I must continue to transmit the image. That's all that is within my reach to help my country, "says Toufik Doudou fervently.

Samir Sid, for his part, admits that he never imagined that the revolution could last eight months in such a sustained and yet peaceful way.

"I attended Fridays where 2 million Algerians were walking down the street, cafes were open, people were sipping their drinks on the terraces and not a cup of broken! It's incredible! ", He testifies subjugated.

Ali Laskri, for his part, said he was marked by this common force united for the same cause. He would like to congratulate any photographer who has participated from far or near, but objectively, to serve the common interest.

Louiza Ammi retains the image of entire families marching and singing together: Free and democratic Algeria!

Lydia Saidi, on the other hand, evokes the complex construction of this insurrection as a striking feature of Hirak. A complexity characterized by the peaceful, tense and uncertain aspect of the first weeks.

Propagation of photographic culture

In addition to this personal contribution, our photographers are aware that they have contributed to the development of a photographic culture with broad layers of Algerian society. Louiza Ammi even claims that citizens regularly approach her for advice and she observes that sales of photographic equipment are booming.

She is also happy to witness the emergence of a new generation that she wants more feminized! It recognizes the existence of very fair competition between photographers. Competition also accompanied bya lot of camaraderie, bonding and encouragement"She adds.

Strongly committed, the photographers are also unanimously aware of their role as witnesses of this unprecedented phase of the country's history. They display a determination to give the best of themselves to accompany the movement and transmit its truths.

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