and text by
[Read the original French text here.]
It’s six in the morning and in this month of February
I’m crossing a border on foot for the first time! It gives me a
real sense of adventure. I leave Taba in a crowded taxi, radio cassette
playing in the background, and let myself be carried away, totally alert,
toward the unknown. A desert road leads to the water, circled to the west
by the mountains of South Sinai. Now and then, a few huts lie flattened
on a pure sky, facing Saudi Arabia some miles away. Only a ship traveling
to Jordan separates sea from sky. Outside, a narrow strip of beach, men
in robes and kefieh, some camels, a huge wooden porch opening onto a horizon
of sand. The Red Sea is turquoise, a light bulb swings over a pool table,
the wind carries the smell of the sea and songs of love drift through
the open windows.
The end of the line: Tarabin, a small coastal village. Aïd, the driver,
tells me that he is Bedouin and my curiosity is aroused. I accept his
invitation and settle in one of their homes, a few kilometers away in
the lone hut at the edge of the water. Friends and acquaintances appear,
some speak a few words of English, in the evening they grill beautiful
fish and invite me around the fire. Two men, in passing, ask me to accompany
them to their village, a day’s journey away, in the middle of the
desert. They are cheerful and considerate, proud to reveal their world
to me. The next day wedged between them on the seat of a bone-shaking
pick-up, the crossing takes my breath away.
The village is a collection of scattered houses, arranged without apparent
logic. Low, rectangular, with corrugated iron roofs and outside courtyards.
A few electric poles. No cafeteria or bus station, not even a store. Here,
you’re invited – or you are lost. I feel a thrill at the idea
of being so deprived of my free will.
But the welcome is amazing. Women lightly touch the men’s inclined
foreheads and then greet me with a hand placed quickly over the heart.
Night falls, in a few moments, a piece of oilcloth on the sand, a shared
dish of rice and lamb, a cup passes around the gathering, we’re
surrounded by a few men who have joined us and who speak a language that
I do not understand, I feel at my ease, and happy. This is the beginning
of a long history of love between these people and me, between this country
"56,000 miles of nothing" wrote Loti, the Khala, this empty
country will become my Eden, my second family. Later I will travel this
desert from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Gulf of Suez, from Rafah to Dahab,
from Abu-Zenima to Naqhl, from Sarabit to Ras Abu Galum.
Day after day I photograph my journey. What happens, what surrounds me,
those I meet.
My backdrops are the desert, our travels, stopovers. My breadcrumb trail
I photograph those who invite me to, those who ask me to, all those who
pose. They are at the heart of this project. Gestures, laughter replace
speech. The time is different, the people too. The summer is hot. From
one shadow to another, we inhale every current of air, every wave of wind.
I no longer know which day it is, we live in the present.
Photography is a rarity for them and my camera never leaves them indifferent.
A joyous complicity develops. The men joke in lascivious poses, the women
make their black veils, embroidered with flashing pearls, fly. The generator
runs for a few hours a day, the sheikh has a television satellite dish,
installed under the stars. Everybody benefits, a bare light bulb flickers
over the screen, we switch channels: football, live concerts from Arabia,
Egyptian melodrama, CNN, we laugh. Some have never seen a foreigner, they
demand my presence.
Faced with so much novelty, surprise, kindness, I fall into the rhythm,
I dissolve. I gain the trust of women, who show me their private areas.
In their bright dresses, between a heart-shaped clock and a stylized palm
tree on the wall, the Bedouin pose with all the seriousness and attention
that a new experience requires. They smoke, raising their veils with one
I love these cheerful, curious people, who agree to pose. With delight.
So, between reality and fiction, I photograph the inward journey, I'm
witness to my experience, following the thread of my inspiration, where
play and mise en scène bring us together, beyond our own cultures,
for a moment of shared happiness.
At each reunion, I am welcomed by these words: "still alive! "
These photographs are the illustration of the humor, the enthusiasm, and
the modernity of an unknown people. Forgotten, threatened, but alive.
– Scarlett Coten
– translated by lens culture