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Thursday, 12 December 2019

A close up on the Middle East, its people and places at the Library of Alexandria

A new photo exhibition titled 'The Inhabitants' at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina shows the colours and shades of life around the country and the region

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 10 Jun 2017
The Inhabitants
The Inhabitants exhibition. Photos by Charlotta Sparre [L] and Jack Jonathan [R] (Courtesy of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina)
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Views: 5079

In the early decades of the 20th century and at its closing, into the 21st century, Jack Jonathan and Charlotta Sparre lived in and loved the Middle East, especially Egypt.

They captured moments of the places and people of this part of the world, through the lens of their cameras and their passion for the region.

On Thursday, under the title 'The Inhabitants,' the Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened a joint photo exhibition for Jonathan, an over 90-year-old American, who had taken refuge in Egypt with his Jewish family as they escaped Palestine during World War I, and Sparre, a Swedish diplomat who is finishing her ambassadorial post in Egypt in a few weeks.

Jack Jonathan
(Photos: Jack Jonathan)

The exhibition shows Jonathan’s pictures of Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s – all in black and white.

They capture the faces of rural and Bedouin women in their villages, farmers threshing the grain in their fields, and men and women walking around old Cairo markets.

The exhibition also shows Sparre’s superimposed photos, all in colour, capturing images of people and places from around Jerusalem, Cairo, Amman, Beirut and pre-war Damascus.

Both collections were designed to show the association of the artist with the place they lived in – Jonathan left the Middle East with World War I while Sparre has served several posts in the region and has visited both in professional and personal capacities.

Charlotta Sparre
(Photos: Charlotta Sparre)

In a sense it is a goodbye statement. However, it is also a summary of a journey of a few years that show the close impact that places and people had on both artists.

Jonathan’s work shows a passion for the pefect contrast between spacious fields and markets and the details of the faces and clothes of the individuals appearing in the pictures.

For her part, Sparre reflects on the intersecting state of pain and patience that the faces of the people display against a backdrop of old walls and doors.

The contrast is also clear between Jonathan’s pictures of rural women doing their washing by river banks in perfectly traditional Delta robes, with their hair covered in the old Egyptian way of having a loose scarf hanging over their braids, and those of Sparre, where the colourful patterned robes of the early decades of the 20th century are strikingly replaced with brown and black robes and Arab Gulf-inspired head covers.

Jack Jonathan
(Photos: Jack Jonathan)

Places have also changed as did the inhabitants, with the spacious landscape in the work of Jonathan giving way to more restrictive domains in the pictures of Sparre.

The Inhabitants might be more about Sparre than about Jonathan – but in fact it is also more about Egypt than the rest of the Middle East. 

Ultimately, it is about the capturing spirit of place and people throughout a century, hence its title (Nass El-Amaken, the inhabitants of the places).

The exhibition runs until 24 May
East Exhibition Hall, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria
Open daily (except Fridays) from 9am to 9pm
On Saturdays and during public holidays: 12pm to 9pm

Charlotta Sparre
(Photos: Charlotta Sparre)

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