Event Review: True Defiance, Photography – Michaelhouse Café Thursday 17th January

24 January 2013

Fran Hughes attends a moving photography exhibition charting the Tunisian uprising…

How many words can a photograph say? Perhaps not quite enough in this case. Last Thursday, Michaelhouse Cafe hosted an Open View organised by Cambridge University Amnesty International featuring an exhibition of photographs taken by five photographers in the aftermath of Tunisia’s Uprising. Twenty-eight days of protest were initiated by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on 17 December 2010, as a protest against market corruption when he was banned from selling his fruit on the street. The largely peaceful protests caused the seemingly immovable President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to resign on 14 January 2011, after 23 years of power. This retrospective served to both celebrate this historic event and reflect on the work which must continue in order to maintain stability in the country, and was accompanied by a talk by Amnesty International’s Benedicte Goderiaux.

The peacefulness of the uprising was certainly the main inspiration for the photographs in the exhibition. Methods utilised by the protesters included strikes, painted signs, damaging their own property and the extensive use of social networking sites. Two prints by Augustin le Gall arranged in coupled images were almost diagrammatic in their powerfully still explanation of the quest for human rights. Both featured a portrait of a first-time voter besides a picture of their blue-painted finger, a simple sign with such power attached. But it was the caption below one which really summarised the message: ‘Rachid Belgacen Fitouri, 97 – First Time Voter.’ Lilia El Golli’s images were also striking in their presentation of humanity, including a photograph of two six-year old twins and a ‘Dignified Berger Woman’ carrying her child on her back.

Yet somehow an expression of the extreme monumentality of the events which occurred during those twenty-eight days was lacking. Even the more documentary photographs seen through the eyes of Nesrine Cheikh Ali, Ezequiel Scagnetti and Naim Gharsalli, though well captured photographically, were only brought into focus by a reminder of the extreme, overwhelming power people are capable of when united against corruption.

Perhaps it is impossible to capture through a camera lens. The Open View as a whole did, however, successfully act as a reminder of these events, and also to highlight the need to not forget in order to continue peaceful work in the country and maintain stability.