I was out for a ride on my trusty steed last week and decided to cut through one of the hidden gems of Toronto: the ravine system. I had brought along my 7D and only my 30mm lens – partially to challenge myself, but also because I was carrying it on my back, and I knew my shoulders would thank me later for saving them the few pounds of extra weight from a zoom.
Walking down the stairs into David A. Balfour Park (a ravine in Summerhill) I came across this underside of this railway bridge and I knew I had to take some stills. I’m one of those people who thinks that the simplicity and functionality of engineering structures can sometimes reveal something beautiful. A friend of mine said that it reminded her of a cathedral, the roof does kind of remind me of vaulted ceilings in a way. I guess such simple framework allows people to see what they want to see.
Even with just the 30mm I was able to find a number of interesting angles. Maybe I’ll return another time with a zoom, or maybe I’ll explore the underside of more bridges in the future.
Take an afternoon stroll down the street, look up to admire the blue sky, and there’s Ben Ali waving to you flashing his botox smile. Pickup the kids from kindergarten, and there he is on the side of the school with his hand over his heart, showing you he cares. Pop into the fish market to pick up something for dinner, and there he is again, this time hard at work on his iMac (because of course, whenever you think fish market the next thought is dictators using Apple products).
How very Big Brother of him.
But when Ben Ali was forced to flee the country following a revolution in January against his 23-year rule, all those posters were torn down by protestors in a sort of cathartic release. Suddenly Tunisia was awash in empty canvases, waiting to be filled by a community of artists and photographers whose creative freedom had been suppressed for most of their lives.
Wasting no time, businessman Slim Zeghal brought a collective of Tunisian photographers together with award-winning French street artist JR to create the Autocracy Project. They travelled across the country, photographing portraits of ordinary Tunisians representing a cross-section of society. These photos were then blown up into posters and placed on monuments, alleyways in impoverished neighbourhoods, and even cars that were burnt during the revolution.
Personally I find Artocracy to be beautiful, powerful, and humanizing – giving public space and recognition to the regular folks who suffered for far too long under a brutal regime. The world may never no their name, but in some way all of them contributed to what may become one of the most defining moments in modern history. Also, nothing neuters the imposing memory of a former police station like a few smiling faces.
While organizers like to view the project as a success, it hasn’t been without its problems. Initially, the posters were just thrown up without any prior notice and residents didn’t react well to this approach. Many people noted that after so many years of Ben Ali’s political slogans thrown up on billboards in their neighbourhood without their consent, they didn’t appreciate the sudden appearance of these portraits. Learning from their mistakes, photographers made an effort to explain the project to residents before the posters were put up and received a much warmer response.
Interaction with the portraits and encouraging lively debate are all part of the project, says Tunisian photographer Marco Berrebi in this interview with Al Jazeera:
“After 50 years of silence, people are willing to discuss, to talk, to challenge your ideas . . . If people want to tear them down, or write something on them, that’s part of the project, that’s okay.”
Whether or not street art takes hold in Tunisia, the organizers of Artocracy should feel a real sense of accomplishment in how quickly they managed to bring all of this together.
Click here for more photos. Thanks to Noha for sharing this.
All photos were taken from Artocracy’s Facebook page, which you can find here.