Review: In the Shadow of the Pyramids by Laura El-Tantawy
As an Egyptian, Laura El-Tantawy lived most of her young adult life in the UK. When the Arab Spring started, Egyptians took control of Tahrir Square in Cairo, in defiance of the leader of the country, Hosni Mubarak and his regime. This was for her the moment to go back, and see for herself what the situation was like, in her motherland.
This book, “In the Shadow of the Pyramids” is the visual diary she produced from this journey. The book, an almost bible-like tome, invites the reader into an emotional experience: this work is clearly subjective and personal. This is Laura’s story, told from her perspective. It includes images from the protests, most of them up close and personal, out of focus, blurry, heavy with tension. These imagers are combined with smaller pictures from her family album back from when she was a child, living and dreaming in Egypt, and small snippets of text.
Often, these personal stories tend to become collections of beautiful images that are all but readable to the interested but uninformed reader. In the case of El-Tantawy’s book however, the story seems to grow beyond her private life and into the public realm. This is her story, but the intensity of the images, combined with the sparse but powerful texts give the project an urgency and relevancy beyond the mere personal.
With her knowledge of, and attachment to, Egypt and its history, combined with the distance that must have developed while living abroad for so many years, she is able to provide us with an insight into what happened on Tahrir Square, and why it mattered. The personal story becomes the carrier of an experience, which allows us, those who were not part of the Arab Spring, to better understand what it was like to be there.
The chapter ‘Faces of a Revolution’ feels like the visual climax of the book; a series of 9 close-up pictures of protesters at Tahrir Square. The portraits are of a mix of people, women and men across generations. Specially one image of an older woman, apparently gazing into a void, the lines and spots in her face almost uncannily sharp, with tears rolling from her eyes, stayed with me: after the entire buildup of the story, here the emotion hit home with me.
In the shadow of the Pyramids is a powerful and strong book. Perhaps the final part of the book could have been edited tighter, it feels now a little as if the author dragged her feet and didn’t what the story to end. But, that is almost irrelevant, as here we have a story, told in this book through pictures and words. Designed by SYB, whose design sometimes seems to take over from the photographs, but here, the design does what it is supposed to do; support the story, as told by Laura.
originially written for and published on: www.photomonitor.co.uk