Fethi Sahraoui was born in 1993 in the southern Algerian town of Hassi R’Mel. He belongs to a generation with unprecedented access to visual media, both materials for its production, like high quality phone cameras, and a wealth of references from film and fine-art photography easily accessible online. Triangle of Views —Sahraoui’s work in the exhibition—pairs two related long-term documentary photo projects: “Stadiumphilia,” begun in 2015, focuses on the male collective experience of time and space in Algerian football stadiums, while “Escaping the Heatwave,” begun in 2016, chronicles the same group in the western Algerian cities of Mascara and Relizane during the hottest period of the year, as they dream of the beach as a final refuge.
I use photography to approach people...
“Stadiumphilia” is about what the stadium contains in terms of affective and visceral levels of male experience. Football is wildly popular in Algerian culture. Since the Black Decade, the infrastructure for public mass entertainment has largely disappeared outside the major cities, with the exception of football stadiums, which have become one of the only places apart from religious services where large crowds are permitted to congregate for hours in public. Sahraoui is especially interested in unaccompanied minors, who are usually barred from entering the stadium but who come anyway, cheering from beyond its walls if they fail to find a way past the guards.
Sahraoui sees the football supporters’ enthusiasm and fierce desire to participate as spectators as an allegory for social conditions in Algeria, rather than simply as an allegiance to the game itself. He also understands the public protests that took place in Algeria in the lead-up to the presidential elections as having been rehearsed in the stadium, born of the solidarity learned as fans.
Escaping the Heatwave
“Escaping the Heatwave” documents this same demographic in search of relief from the heat of the summer. Algeria has roughly 1000 miles of coastline, yet for those living even forty miles inland, the sea can feel inaccessible during the height of the season. Without public pools and other such amenities, children find abandoned water towers, irrigation channels, and streams of agricultural runoff to cool themselves in. If “Stadiumphilia” revolves around a collective experience that bears political fruit, “Escaping the Heatwave” traces the same generation’s ingenuity and willingness to invent solutions to systemic problems on a quotidian level. This latter series centers on the body’s experience of the extremes of the Algerian landscape, and the inexorable range of responses of which this generation is capable.
A transcript of the audio recordings on this page is available for download.
TRIANGLE OF VIEWS, 2019
The design of Triangle of Views by Fethi Sahraoui’s mirrors the platforms on which Algeria’s emerging photographers trained and reflects a shared awareness of photography’s relationship to the body in the contemporary landscape of images. Thick square pages are folded at the diagonal center of a book only about three or four times the size of a smartphone. Its scale is crucial—large enough to dissociate itself from the banality of the phone screen, small enough to produce a similar haptic relationship to the object. The reader’s hands sense what to do with the images, although now they are not quite scrolling or swiping: one hand beneath the book’s central binding and the other moving from right to left, or left to right, flipping through a sequence of square photographs printed in full bleed. It is the viewing experience Instagram can only dream of.
Triangle of Views forms an equilateral triangle. Open, it is roughly the size of two outstretched hands, placed next to one another, palms facing up. The photography book is published by La Chambre Claire, founded by Youcef and Zohor Krache in 2018. Sahraoui and Youcef Krache belong to Collective 220, a group of photographers who first congregated in room 220 of Albert Premier Hotel in Algiers in 2015 to discuss the need to create and circulate representations of Algeria that surpassed stereotypes: the veil, the Kabyle people, the migrant, religious extremism, and so-called underground scenes.
From the series “Stadiumphilia,” 2015–ongoing. Photograph from the book Triangle of Views, 2019. A poster of Zougari Taher outside a stadium, whom fans consider a martyr in the Algerian war for independence.
From the series “Escaping the Heatwave,” 2016–ongoing. Photograph from the book "Triangle of Views," 2019. Teenagers on the train between Mohammadia and Mers El Hadjadj (Port aux Poules).
"Triangle of Views," 2019. Published by La Chambre Claire, Algiers. Installation view from the exhibition "Waiting for Omar Gatlato" on view at the Wallach Art Gallery October 2019 - March 2020.
All images of the artist and his artworks are copyrighted by and presented courtesy of the artist.