Following, A week in Cairo
In December 2010, I was commissioned by Leica to follow in the footsteps of James Bruce, a Scottish explorer who set out to discover the source of the Blue Nile in the 1760s. I became interested in that project because of its time travel aspect. I invited my friend Gheith Al-Amine to join me on this trip; we made plans to leave at the end of January, 2011, by land through Damascus, Amman, and then south to Aqaba. We would then cross the Red Sea by ferryboat to Egypt, travel through the Sinai desert up north to Port Said, and finally Alexandria. Then we would roam along the Nile through Cairo and Luxor to Aswan and back along the same path in 15 days.
On the day the revolution started in Egypt, I dropped all my plans and booked two plane tickets to Cairo instead. In the first three days of the revolution, the only images circulating were made by protesters with mobile devices that were uploaded onto the Internet. I loaded my analogue camera with a fast black and white film and started documenting the events through my computer screen. The Internet at that period was the event itself.
On the 28th of January, we arrived 11am; a big demonstration was planned at noon. Our Hotel was 100 metres away from Tahrir Square. Internet and cellular networks were down so people were unable to upload any more images and tweets from their phones. It was the emptiness of Cairo that struck me when I got there; when I was last there in 2007 it was crowded at all hours. I felt this event was as important as the clashes that had taken place over the previous three days.
(I had found some very old black and white pictures in Beirut of Cairo three years before and I had decided to now take them with me in an attempt to revisit the places they depicted. Those pictures told the story of two Lebanese men who had travelled Cairo in the 1960s and visited some tourist spots among other places. It came to me that this archive was about places that no longer existed and I completely lost all interest in them, even at one point wanting to throw them in the river. I decided to rely mainly on my mobile phone to capture things.)
On the 4th of February, Utopia was fully realised. Back at the airport, we were arrested twice, first time searched and interrogated for two hours, the second time, we paid our way out. 'We're trying to catch those spies that are out there working for the destruction of Egypt', I was told by the intelligence officer who interrogated us last. 'There must be an invisible, malevolent hand stirring all of this'. This is the ecstasy of communication; this is the electronic revolution. The 'Invisible Generation' is everywhere. Roy Samaha