Portraits of a Village
Curated by James Cavello
WESTWOOD GALLERY NYC presented a premiere U.S. exhibition of photographs by Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985). Fifty five silver gelatin photographs represent a portion of over 100,000 portraits captured by this dedicated Algerian photographer. From 1950 through 1980, Mansouri photographed the inhabitants of Aïn Beïda, his home village in Northern Algeria.
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 ad 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. 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. Today Algerian cultural organizations value the photographs for their historic and artistic contribution.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
From 1950 through 1980, Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985) photographed the inhabitants of Aïn Beïda (Aurés), his home town in Algeria. Over the years, Mansouri took more than 100,000 portraits of the local townspeople in his own studio set up in the back of a barber shop, inadvertently creating a photographic archive, a legacy of images representing people and tribes rarely photographed.
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. It was a period of war and political turmoil as Algeria fought for independence from France; however, the stability of Mansouri's studio was evident in the thousands of portraits he created.
© Estate of Lazar Mansouri