Photo Book Review: Salih Basheer Images from a Khartoum Childhood

22 Days in Between by Salih Basheer is a photobook dedicated to his parents, a book of loss and grief, a book about falling in upon yourself and losing a connection with both a place and maybe the people who live there.

The title is a close reference to Basheer's loss: 22 days are the gap between his mother passing away of causes unknown and his father dying in hospital after being hit on the head ‘while mediating a conflict’.

The first images in the book are old passport photos of his parents, Fatma and Basheer. They stare out of the pages of this palm-sized book, the earnestness of the identity picture written across their faces.

Then comes text, in both Arabic and English. There are details of his parents' deaths, and how, after his parents’ deaths he and his siblings moved in with their grandmother. The next page tells of the family background: ‘We are five siblings; three girls and two boys. I’m the youngest. Before me comes my brother Sharif, my sisters Asma and Asia, and then my eldest sister Entsar.’

Some siblings get married or move out, leaving Salih and Sharif alone with the grandmother. There are family album pictures of the house, a two-bedroom house behind a gate, with a muddy courtyard. 

There are memories from Asma of Salih’s birth, of how Sharif used to eat a lot of mud as a child and needed gallstone surgery in Khartoum. All the family got to go to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, except for Asma who had fallen over in the dirt and wasn’t allowed to go. She stayed at home crying. 

Images tie in with the text, so there is a child’s drawing of a car filled with happy, smiling faces, there is a medical certificate with test results, there are pictures of graves, and there are family photographs mixed with contemporary images, though it’s not always easy to tell which is which. The cracks in the family album, the slippage between past and present, and the cutting across time is evident here.

Most of all there are family stories, the time Sharif and a cousin, stole Salih’s soda, the rocks he jumped from as a child and the ‘djan’ (demon) tree he never dared go near. And then there’s the darkness, the depression Salih felt when he moved away from Khartoum, the absence that became part of his being. 

There are pictures of his mother, and of Salih himself, fragmented and blurry to reflect the loss of his parents, the loss of his home, the loss of his self. His mother died in hospital, and his father while intervened in a neighbourhood dispute. They were both buried in a Khartoum graveyard, but without nameplates in an ever-expanding cemetery. Their final resting place is now unknown, lost in the expansion of earth reserved for death.

Salih was not the only one who was suffering. Asma writes ‘A year after our parents’ death, the three of us went to the city of Al-Faw to live with my grandmother and uncle. I went with my older sister and husband. Every day I went to school alone. Every night I would listen to music on the radio, and cry until my pillow was soaked with tears.”

22 Days in Between is a book of loss and grief. It is a book about falling in upon yourself and losing a connection with both a place and maybe the people who live there. Basheer’s contemporary images of graveyards, of schools, of courtyards and places he once called home may be an attempt to piece together the man he could have been, the person who was taken from him. It is, one feels, an attempt that is in vain, and that futility is the beautiful thing about this beautiful book. Trying is what matters because that is what makes us who we are. 

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22 Days in Between is published by Disko Bay

Pocket-sized linen-bound hardback with tipped-in image

11,5 × 16 cm

112 pages

46 monochrome and colour plates

Text by Salih Basheer Language: English and Arabic

Edition of 700

ISBN 978-87-973526-3-2

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Salih Basheer (1995, Omdurman) is a Sudanese documentary photographer. During his studies of Geography at Cairo University, Egypt, he started as a self-taught photographer and subsequently studied Photo Journalism in Denmark at DMJX. He has been awarded several grants and prizes for his ongoing projects, and his photo stories have been exhibited in Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United Arab Emirates. Salih Basheer currently lives and works in Denmark. 22 Days in Between is his first book. 

Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, Sofa Portraits is available here.  Follow him on Instagram.

Photo Book Review: Salih Basheer Images from a Khartoum Childhood by Colin Pantall

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