Pierre Bourdieu’s Photographs of Wartime Algeria


If you know the work of Pierre Bour­dieu, you prob­a­bly know it as soci­ol­o­gy, or per­haps phi­los­o­phy. What­ev­er you call the dis­ci­pline he worked in, the man remained thor­ough­go­ing­ly con­cerned with the dynam­ics of pow­er in every con­text. This inter­est extend­ed even to his artis­tic endeav­ors, such as the pho­tographs he took in Alge­ria in the late 1950s and ear­ly 60s, when he worked in that coun­try as a uni­ver­si­ty lec­tur­er. The time and place of the Alger­ian War would have giv­en any­one plen­ty to doc­u­ment, visu­al­ly or oth­er­wise, but it proved, for obvi­ous rea­sons, an espe­cial­ly rich intel­lec­tu­al ground for a French­man think­ing about pow­er dynam­ics. Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press recent­ly assem­bled the fruits of Bour­dieu’s labors with open eyes and ready cam­era into the col­lec­tion Pic­tur­ing Alge­ria, which they’ve spent a week exam­in­ing on their blog. The pho­tos in this post come from a post of theirs fea­tur­ing a few selec­tions from the book. “Bourdieu’s pho­tog­ra­phy offers a sym­pa­thet­ic and insight­ful por­trait of a coun­try and a peo­ple,” they write there, “who were osten­si­bly the ene­mies of France.” Anoth­er post offers soci­ol­o­gist and Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics and Polit­i­cal Sci­ence Direc­tor Craig Cal­houn’s intro­duc­tion to Pic­tur­ing Alge­ria, in which he describes the book’s pho­tographs as “nei­ther the com­plete­ly naïve snap­shots of a new­com­er nor prod­ucts of a ful­ly formed soci­ol­o­gist or anthro­pol­o­gist.”


The young Bour­dieu was a good pho­tog­ra­ph­er,” Cal­houn con­tin­ues. “His pic­tures offer inter­est­ing, some­times beau­ti­ful com­po­si­tions. But when Bour­dieu looked back on these pho­tographs near­ly a life­time lat­er, he said that the ones that moved him most were the most naïve.” You can read more from Bour­dieu him­self in an in-depth 2001 inter­view post­ed by Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press. What sep­a­rat­ed his “naïve” pic­tures from those tak­en by the many pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers who passed through war-rocked Alge­ria? “I think — apart from occa­sion­al flukes — it was not easy for them to take an uncon­ven­tion­al view of this soci­ety,” Bour­dieu says, “a view that was not exclu­sive­ly pic­turesque by design: a weaver at work, women com­ing home from the well.” He calls the veiled woman on a moped, pic­tured here, one of his “most typ­i­cal” pho­tos, “a pho­to they could have tak­en as well,”  but one which still gets at the elu­sive nature of his “dual, con­tra­dic­to­ry and ambiva­lent expe­ri­ence” in that “strange coun­try in which I had a con­stant sense of tragedy, yet saw a lot of fun­ny things too that made me laugh or smile [ … ] an expe­ri­ence that I always found very hard to express or con­vey here in France.” Just the sort of thing that — as rarely as Con­ti­nen­tal aca­d­e­mics can accept this — only images, nev­er words, can prop­er­ly evoke. You can pur­chase your copy of Pic­tur­ing Alge­ria here.


(via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pho­tog­ra­phy of Lud­wig Wittgen­stein Dis­played by Archives at Cam­bridge

Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son and the Deci­sive Moment

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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