“Portrait de Cherid Barkaoun” was one of Marc Garanger’s pictures of Algerian women taken during in the early 1960s. The image of Barkaoun, “mournful but proud, large eyes kohl-rimmed, hair braided, absently clutching a scarf to her chest as if to keep hold of some sliver of privacy”, as the New York Times put it, reaches across half a century and remains a poignant symbol of oppression by the French and her tribal elders alike.
During the early 1960s, the French authorities required Algerians to have identity cards and a conscript in the French Army, Marc Garanger, was ordered to shoot their portraits. He photographed some 2,000 Algerian women, many of whom had been veiled throughout their adult lives until they uncovered themselves for Granger’s camera. If taking these images was a violation to these women and their cultural beliefs, their cultural beliefs themselves were also violation of their individual rights. It turned Mr. Garanger against French rule and through the humanity of his subjects, he conveyed their anger, oppression and resistance.
“In 1960, I was doing my military service in Algeria. The French army had decided that the indigenous peoples were to have a French identity card. I was asked to photograph all the people in the surrounding villages. I took photographs of nearly two thousand persons, the majority of whom were women, at a rate of about two hundred a day. The faces of the women moved me greatly. They had no choice. They were required to unveil themselves and let themselves be photographed. They had to sit on a stool, outdoors, before a white wall. I was struck by their pointblank stares, first witness to their mute, violent protest.
To express myself with my eye, I took up my camera. To shout my disagreement. For twenty-four months I never stopped, sure that one day I would be able to testify. To tell stories with these images… all of this I did with more force than the dominant military ideology of the era that surrounded me with hatred and violence. My spirits revolt was proportionate to the horrors that I witnessed,” later recalled Garanger. Equally memorable and haunting are Garanger’s later photographs of the Algerian War collected in the 1984 album La Guerre d’Algérie vue par un appelé du contingent. Garanger viewed the publications as a riposte to France’s collective amnesia about the Occupation of North Africa.
Garanger later worked as a freelance photographer in all the republics of the Soviet Union. In 1966 he received the Prix Niepce, one of the most important photography awards in France.