I have traveled to Egypt regularly since the beginning of the revolution in 2011, trying to find trust in times of turmoil and suspicion, where private life is often shielded. I asked people I met by chance if I could spend the night at their homes. Women, their husbands and children shared their daily life, their food and even their bed with me. This mutual engagement is truly important for me. Nevertheless, as I keep trying to connect, I gradually became more aware of my status as an outsider, both culturally and as a photographer. Whilst dialogue and interaction are indeed of key importance, I will always remain a visitor from the West, a woman, a photographer.
How could I capture my doubts and add more of the country’s complexity in the book that I was making? I could not publish it like that. In 2017, I revisited the country with a first draft of this book, inviting other people to write comments directly onto the photographs. The photographs have now become meeting places: contrasting views on country, religion, society and photography arise between people who would otherwise never cross paths.
“People who might not have chosen to invite Bieke into their own house are also given a chance to add their voices to the book. About fifty passersby encountered in different parts of the country add a further layer to the book. They succeed in piercing the vacuum that the images seem to reside in. They read between the lines and through the blankets. The complexity of this society is embodied by the spelling mistakes, by the responses scribbled across the framed pictures on the walls and the pyjamas. The outside world invades the discussions held here, on class differences, education, privacy, and religion. When the subject is politics, people tread carefully. Even anonymous strokes of the pen can be compromising nowadays. It is March 2017, and self-censorship can feel safer than risking freedom of expression. Images that people don’t agree with become progressively less visible with each scrawled comment.
The photo is being overwritten as if suddenly adding subtitles to a silent film. The shifting perspectives challenge the viewer. More than ever, the image becomes just one possible interpretation of reality, as it may be. It can no longer be considered the only fixed truth."
(Extract from the essay in the book - by Ruth Vandewalle.)
'As it may be' is published this year by Aperture and Hannibal.
'Mumkin — Est-ce possible?' is published by Editions Xavier Barral.
The book is an exact reproduction of the dummy I took back home with me from Egypt after the last visit. The Included booklet features all of the handwritten notes in the original Arabic as well as the translations.