Jason Larkin is a photographer that keeps on “producing” great work. He is internationally recognised for his long-term social documentary projects, environmental portraiture and landscape reportage. For me, it’s mostly his work in and around Egypt that keeps me excited. He did a wonderful series Past Perfect, photographing the museums of Egypt. By deciding how the past is presented and memorialised, museums not only preserve the past, they also play an important role in the construction of our ideologies, identities and the understanding and interpretation of ourselve. That is why Past Perfect was Larkin’s way of revealing one more layer of Egypt’s identity. In Suez: A Life Line, Larkin captures the importance of the Suez canal, a 192 km passage dividing Africa from the Middle East and a crucial source of income and foreign exchange for Egypt. Larkin’s Egyptian project I wish to focus on today is Cairo Divided.
“From a population of one million at the beginning of the 20th Century to over 18 million today, Cairo’s expansion has been rapid. Most capitals are magnets, but the speed with which the Egyptian one has grown in the last century is testament to both its remarkable centripetal power and surrounding vacuum of opportunity.
For centuries, Cairo’s growth has been checked by geography, bounded by a narrow strip of fertile, Nile-irrigated land, with nothing but desert beyond. Now, faced with the city’s barely contained chaos and alarmed by the growing slums, Cairo’s elites have begun to dream of escape. Along the Ring Road, billboards advertise exclusive new private developments – Utopia, Dreamland, Palm Hills, Belle Ville and The Egypt of My Desires. Cairo’s future, it seems, lies outside the city’s boundaries, in the desert, where it can be built from scratch.
Drawn in to these vast spaces, and surrounded by the drone of construction, I was mesmerised by the exposed layers of new urban centers being developed among the desert dunes. In focusing on these landscapes I wanted to capture the reality of fantasy lifestyles in mid-production, to document the extravagance of a few whose wealth put sharp focus on the fact that 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day.
The surreal remodeling of the landscape shows little appreciation for the environment it is rapidly colonising. From the decisions of a few, Cairo is morphing its periphery into its core whilst condemning the previous centre to a life on the margins. I felt witness to a mass exit strategy taking shape, and with the camera, recorded the foundations of abandonment in pursuit of self-interest and exclusive isolation.”
/all photos © Jason Larkin/
For more on this project and Larkin’s other projects, visit his official website.