“This is actually the first time that my parents have seen these photos. I didn’t want them to fear for what I was doing.” – Shadi Rahimi
In May 2011, freelance photographer and journalist Shadi Rahimi spent two weeks in Cairo. There, through a series of short videos titled Voices of Egypt, the young Iranian-American chronicled the range of Egyptian perspectives surrounding the ongoing uprising. She left the country so creatively and emotionally transfixed that within days of returning home to Oakland she quit her job and worried her family by buying a one-way ticket back into the tumult-ridden capital. She stayed, remarkably, for seven months, immersing herself in the humanity of the conflict. Stand Your Ground, The Sun Is Rising, a striking photography exhibit on display at the Old Crow Gallery until June 18, is part of the end result of her experience.
In Egypt, where the median age is twenty four, the blood spilt in this conflict has been that of the very young. Rahimi was particularly inspired by the “Ultras”—groups of young men defined by their fervidity to soccer and revolution. Armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails, these Ultras—whose members were often twelve or thirteen years old—made up the frontline of the uprising. One of the most arresting photos in this collection shows three sunny preteen boys beaming for the camera, each one in some way bruised or bandaged. What makes the image so striking is the recognizable preteen boy-ness of it: they’re young, they’re outside; they’re smiling. There is a similar photo in the home of every mother who has raised a son. (The opening night of the Stand Your Ground… exhibition was also a fundraiser for Boys of the Bullets, a yet-to-be-released documentary by Rahimi on the Ultras.)
Rahimi’s photographs are beautiful testaments to the protean nature of Egyptian life. A lone figure stands against a blazing Fayoum sunset. An older gentleman, bearded and refined, smiles for his portrait. A young man stands on the shoulders of a crowd on a busy city street; as the crowd looks on, he roars and brandishes a single finger against the sky, a challenge against the plume of smoke rising in the background. These are not merely images of conflict, nor are they aggressively sentimental pictures meant to push a cliched sense of shared humanity. They are images that ultimately work to reaffirm the power of the image. These pictures have the power to grab you. Compellingly structured in both their composition and narrative, they stand as deeply moving portraits of a population working toward an unknown future. (To learn more about the conflict, visit www.risingfromtahrir.com)
Chris Prioleau is a Bay Area native and a graduate of UC Santa Cruz. He is currently an MFA student in fiction at Columbia University.