From the start of baseball’s World Series and Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean to the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and people dressed as pandas, TIME presents the best images of the week.
Following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime last year, photographer Jehad Nga set out to explore the former dictator’s political and military philosophies within the framework of an underlying and contrasting Libyan culture. Here, Nga he writes for LightBox about his project, The Green Book, which depicts the conflicting values of reality through gathered images broken down into binary code.
The Green Book, first published in 1975, is a short tome setting out the political philosophy of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Intended to be required reading for all Libyans, the 24 chapters were constructed simply, containing broad and basic slogans rendered in a rudimentary writing style easy to understand by all. Gaddafi claimed to have developed the book’s theories in order to resolve many contradictions inherent in capitalism and communism thereby—by his logic, freeing its citizens from bondage of both systems. The book, however, proved for most to be nothing more than an inane manifesto used to further reduce the value of a population’s role in the building of a society.
During the revolution that finally brought Gaddafi’s reign to an end last October, it was common for the intelligence arm of the government, in its heightened state of awareness, to target people attempting to traffic information out of the country.
Employing the similar technological principles, I used a satellite adjusted to intersect varying levels of Internet traffic flow transmitted over Libya. An assigned command allowed for the satellite to look only for photographs and disregard all other associated data traffic.
Without any distinguishable narratives, the constant stream of communication I captured visually grew over time to resemble a hyper-realized paradise, where the borders between the natural and supernatural had been washed away. From the ebb and flow of images being sent between people—the population’s naked, unedited psyche rendered visual—I harvested 24 representative images.
Once the images were captured, I wanted to further explore the meaning of my action. I first reduced each image to its most basic structure, binary code, which singled it out from the other billion bits of data shooting through the sky. This conversion exposed each image’s digital “cell structure”—millions of algorithms mathematically, miraculously unified to produce something of beauty. Code is built in layers, each with a metaphor constructed by its programmer to enact and describe its behavior. Reducing an image to pure binary data strips it of any individual identity, any protection, and any premise.
I was able to exploit this frailty—the structural weakness of each image—by introducing new information into its binary data. Each chapter of The Green Book was introduced into the code structure of each photo, threatening to break the image file past the threshold of recognition. Sometimes the new data caused the complete collapse of the image structure. When my experiment was successful, the text at once contaminated the image and created something new.
The final product is a depiction of how something with “genetic predisposition,” something rigid and fixed, struggles to coexist with additional textual information. The conflicting “values” are evident in the distorted and augmented reality presented by the photographs.
Taken as a whole, The Green Book Study, a collection of 24 images that carries with it Gaddafi’s three-volume manifesto in its entirety, becomes an method for evaluating the process of which a society’s human structure becomes distorted and at time fully collapsed by a command line of one totalitarian vision.
A year after they both captured the global imagination, the revolutions in Egypt and Libya are now poised on a knife-edge. The sense of hope that followed the departures of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi — the former nudged out of power by the army top brass; the latter eventually killed by rebel militia after a bloody eight-month civil war — has withered. In Egypt, the shadow of the country’s domineering military looms large despite the victory in presidential elections of a candidate from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood. (Many liberals, meanwhile, question the Islamists’ commitment to a free and open democracy.) In Libya, the violent overthrow of the four-decade old Gaddafi dictatorship has left behind a fledgling state that is riven by tribal militias, even as the nation held elections last weekend.
Witnessing the upheaval firsthand, photojournalist Sarah Elliott set about documenting those who have had most to gain — and to lose — from the transformations of the Arab Spring: women. The revolutions in both countries, which were aimed at toppling an encrusted, deep-seated authoritarianism, presented women “with opportunities they had never before imagined,” says Elliott. Women massed on the frontlines of protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square; in Libya, some were on the frontlines as well — with machine guns.
Yet when Elliott arrived in Libya last August, not long before the fall of the capital Tripoli, she entered a story that seemed — at least as it was being conveyed then to the outside world — bereft of women. While myriad images beamed out of North Africa depicted crowds of men chanting in the streets or strutting around abandoned tanks, “women were totally unseen, they were absent,” says Elliott. In Tripoli, she went to hospitals and prisons, civil society meetings and ransacked government buildings, interviewing women from all walks of life and political stripes. Her project includes both a pro-Gaddafi sniper, whom Elliott first encounters on a hospital bed and then at a makeshift prison, as well as a range of women affiliated with the rebellion—including one lady who would smuggle bullets in her handbag and another, a fighter on the front, who named her child after the popular “Doshka” machine gun.
Elliott’s photographs blend portraiture and reportage; the testimony of those she documents is important. “I wasn’t just snapping pics,” says Elliott. “I sat down with them for hours and kept in contact. I want to fully tell their story.” She hopes to expand the project from Libya and Egypt to cover the whole breadth of the Arab Spring — most immediately Tunisia, where last year’s seismic upheavals first began and where a fragile consensus exists between the Islamist and secularist forces that came to power in the revolution’s wake.
For women, much is at stake. The promise of sweeping political change has run up against the realities of conservative, deeply patriarchal societies. In both post-revolution Egypt and Libya, Islamist pressure led to the axing of minimum quotas for women in the countries’ new elected legislatures. Fears grow over a roll-back of the moderate gains made by women’s rights in the era of the dictatorships, which, while repressive, tended to be secular. In Egypt, incidences of sexual harassment and intimidation — which had a brief reprieve during the giddy days of unity at Tahrir Square — have worsened; many feel increasingly marginalized by the post-revolution status quo. “For women, there’s a sense that their revolution never really ended,” says Elliott. She hopes to follow them as their struggle continues.
Sarah Elliott is a Nairobi-based photographer. See more of her work here.
Almost Dawn in Libya, a collaborative project for which eight photographers raised money for four simultaneous Libyan exhibitions of photographs from the country’s conflict—as described here on LightBox—reached its fundraising goal of $40,000 and will be completed in the next few weeks. Photographer André Liohn, one of the guiding forces behind the initiative, spoke to LightBox from Misrata, Libya, where he was preparing for the installation in that city.
“That we finally have the pictures in our hands,” says Liohn, “is very exciting.”
Liohn estimates that they are about 80 percent done with printing the photographs for the shows, but the progress is dodged by remnants of the conflict that the exhibitions are intended to address. On the day before Liohn spoke to LightBox, militiamen seized control of the Tripoli airport. Elections are also on the horizon. It’s still unclear whether the other photographers who are part of the Almost Dawn project—Lynsey Addario, Eric Bouvet, Bryan Denton, Christopher Morris, Jehad Nga, Finbarr O’Reilly and Paolo Pellegrin—will have difficulty getting to Libya for the openings.
But, after everything endured by the photojournalists who captured the Libyan conflict on film, these obstacles are not overly daunting. Liohn says he’s ready to get the shows up and running, particularly because the people he meets in Libya are ready too. Despite—or perhaps because of—the trauma of war, they seem, to him, eager to help with the vision of healing through photography.
“We feel that the project is pretty much as much theirs as it’s ours,” says Liohn, citing the people who have donated both living space and expensive printing services. “To me, it’s very courageous that they are taking so much responsibility for making this happen.”
The Almost Dawn in Libya team has also provided LightBox with the panoramic view shown here, as designed by Paolo Pellegrin and curator Annalisa d’Angelo, which replicates the gallery set-up that will be seen in Libya. The lack of captions was part of the original vision for the project, meant to allow viewers to see past any divisions between Libyan regions and peoples. Although work remains to be done—unsurprisingly, considering the task of mounting four identical exhibitions across a still-scarred nation—the shows are expected to open in early July in four Libyan cities, Tripoli, Misurata, Benghazi and Zintan, with the goal of providing fodder for debate and discussion about the country’s future among those who come to see the photographs.
“They fear that Libya will not become a good country,” says Liohn. “Still they are not letting the fear keep them from making Libya into what they want.”
Learn more about Almost Dawn in Libya—and the photographers involved at their emphas.is fundraising page here.
Almost Dawn in Libya will be shown on the following schedule:
July 1 – Misurata – Goz-elteek-Hotel
July 4 – Benghazi – Benghazi Museum
July 10 – Tripoli – Dar Al Funnun – Tripoli Art House
July 12 – Zintan – Zintan Media Center
You can also follow the exhibition’s progress at ADIL‘s Facebook page, here.