From 1950 through 1980, Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985) photographed the inhabitants of Aïn Beïda (Aurés), his home town in Algeria. Over the years, Mansouri created more than 100,000 portraits of the local townspeople in his own studio.
PORTRAITS OF A VILLAGE
The images are a commentary on the time, reflected through families, youth, tribes and military, with an emphasis on custom, kitsch, fashion and a familiar need for youth to be looked upon as 'cool'. Plastic plants, columns and various patterned curtains serve as backdrops in the studio, framing posed young Algerian children, looking somewhat uncomfortable, dressed in costumes, mini suits or sunglasses, holding guitars or standing near plastic plants. Teenagers wear leather jackets and pose with cigarettes dangling from their mouth. Engaged couples are captured in a kiss or replaying the moment of the ring engagement. In one photograph a village family stands rigid with three young daughters in the front row, yet off to the side is the teenage son in a relaxed pose holding a large transistor radio as a sign of his youth. In most of these photographs smiles are rare, the individuals taking the moment seriously, as a treasured photo memory of their families, in stark contrast to the surrounding kitsch.
When Mansouri was a child, he accompanied his grandmother to the local street market, considered a community meeting place and bazaar, where he met a photographer who had a studio in the back of a grocery store. The photographer hired him and through an apprenticeship, Mansouri learned the craft of photography. Eventually, he left to open his own studio in the back of a barber shop, dedicated to portraiture. After years of documenting everyday people in the region, Mansouri inadvertently created a photographic archive, a legacy of images representing people and tribes rarely photographed. During this period, Algeria went through war and political turmoil as the country fought for independence from France. However, the stability of Mansouri's studio was evident in the thousands of people he captured.
© Lazhar Mansouri
PORTRAITS OF BERBER WOMEN
In addition to the family portraits, Mansouri took hundreds of photos of Berber women with tattooed faces. These women never took off their veil for any man, except their husband, so the photo archive Mansouri created is exceptional. Luckily, the patrimony of photographs was saved by another photographer who saw its' value, as upon Mansouri's death, his family considered the necessity of burning all of these controversial negatives.
Mansouri describes the ritual of a seasoned professional who tries to be respectful of customs, but at the same time gets what he wants from the subject: "Women often come accompanied by a relative. They follow the man, veiled, not to be recognized in the street. When they come in the studio they submit to my rules. The only person that comes in is the one who wants the photograph. The person to be photographed has some space to fix her or his appearance, a small hand mirror, one on the wall, a hair brush and combs. Generally women come wearing makeup, well dressed with jewelry. A certain distance is imposed otherwise it would be a sign of disrespect for a man to be too close to a woman. The clients are very different and it is almost impossible to tell who has been in a studio before and knows the procedure and who has never seen a camera and needs instruction. The approach has to be very delicate in order to avoid shame, especially since for some of them it is the first time when they are without veil in front of a man they are not related to. Sometimes, I have to intervene if the hair covers the face, or jewelry is not placed where it should be. Then I try to arrange it, but I take all the precautions of language and discretion."
© Lazhar Mansouri
2020 - WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC. Lifting the Veil. Photographs of Amazigh Women.
Reviewed by Middle East Eye, Musée Magazine, Newsletter of the Algerian Embassy.
2008 - US Embassy, Algiers. Art in Embassies program.
2007 - WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC. Lazhar Mansouri, Portraits of A Village. Review by the New York Times, Art in America, Art News, Artnet, New York Observer.
2007 - Besançon, France. Musée du Temps
2007 - Rome, Italie. Maison de la Littérature
2006 - Aubenas, France. Manifestation France Algérie
2005 - Mayenne en France
2004 - Lausanne, Suisse
2004 - Montreuil, Musée Art et Histoire
2003 - Bienne, Suisse. Centre Pasquart
2003 - Milan, Italie. Palais Royal with the support of Edizione Mazzotta
2003 - Montpellier, France. Montpellier photo vision
2020 - "In pictures: The hidden lives of the Amazigh people," by Ouissal Harize in the Middle East Eye
2020 - "Lazhar Mansouri, Lifting the Veil, Portraits of Amazigh Women," in Musee Magazine
2020 - Newsletter of Algerian Embassey
2007 - "Art in Review, Lazhar Mansouri, Portraits of a Village: 1950-70," by Holland Cotter in The New York Times
2007 - "An Algerian Village," by William Meyers in the New York Sun
2007 - "The Aura of Timelessness," by Donald Kuspit in Artnet News
2007 - "Art, Lazhar Mansouri," in The New Yorker
> Aouchem : la mémoire à fleur de peau : essai d'après le fonds photographique de Lazhar Mansouri by Mohand Abouda (French)
> Lazhar Mansouri. Photographe algérien. 2003. Edizione Mazzotta in collaboration with Pro Helvetia (Italian, French), 112 pages. Essays by Charles-Henri Favrod, Cléa Redaié, PRO-HELVETIA, Armand Dériaz, Mohand Abouda.
> Documented at the Hirsch Library of the Houston Museum of Fine Arts
> Documented in the archives of the Museum of Modern Art
> Collection of the US State Department, Art in Embassies (Algiers)