The end of the line: Tarabin, a small coastal village. Aïd, the driver, tells me that he is Bedouin and my curiosity is aroused. I accept his invitation and settle in one of their homes, a few kilometers away in the lone hut at the edge of the water. Friends and acquaintances appear, some speak a few words of English, in the evening they grill beautiful fish and invite me around the fire. Two men, in passing, ask me to accompany them to their village, a day’s journey away, in the middle of the desert. They are cheerful and considerate, proud to reveal their world to me. The next day wedged between them on the seat of a bone-shaking pick-up, the crossing takes my breath away.
The village is a collection of scattered houses, arranged without apparent logic. Low, rectangular, with corrugated iron roofs and outside courtyards. A few electric poles. No cafeteria or bus station, not even a store. Here, you’re invited – or you are lost. I feel a thrill at the idea of being so deprived of my free will.
But the welcome is amazing. Women lightly touch the men’s inclined foreheads and then greet me with a hand placed quickly over the heart. Night falls, in a few moments, a piece of oilcloth on the sand, a shared dish of rice and lamb, a cup passes around the gathering, we’re surrounded by a few men who have joined us and who speak a language that I do not understand, I feel at my ease, and happy. This is the beginning of a long history of love between these people and me, between this country and me.
"56,000 miles of nothing" wrote Loti, the Khala, this empty country will become my Eden, my second family. Later I will travel this desert from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Gulf of Suez, from Rafah to Dahab, from Abu-Zenima to Naqhl, from Sarabit to Ras Abu Galum.
Day after day I photograph my journey. What happens, what surrounds me, those I meet.
My backdrops are the desert, our travels, stopovers. My breadcrumb trail is these.
I photograph those who invite me to, those who ask me to, all those who pose. They are at the heart of this project. Gestures, laughter replace speech. The time is different, the people too. The summer is hot. From one shadow to another, we inhale every current of air, every wave of wind.
I no longer know which day it is, we live in the present.
Photography is a rarity for them and my camera never leaves them indifferent. A joyous complicity develops. The men joke in lascivious poses, the women make their black veils, embroidered with flashing pearls, fly. The generator runs for a few hours a day, the sheikh has a television satellite dish, installed under the stars. Everybody benefits, a bare light bulb flickers over the screen, we switch channels: football, live concerts from Arabia, Egyptian melodrama, CNN, we laugh. Some have never seen a foreigner, they demand my presence.
Faced with so much novelty, surprise, kindness, I fall into the rhythm, I dissolve. I gain the trust of women, who show me their private areas. In their bright dresses, between a heart-shaped clock and a stylized palm tree on the wall, the Bedouin pose with all the seriousness and attention that a new experience requires. They smoke, raising their veils with one hand.
I love these cheerful, curious people, who agree to pose. With delight.
So, between reality and fiction, I photograph the inward journey, I'm witness to my experience, following the thread of my inspiration, where play and mise en scène bring us together, beyond our own cultures, for a moment of shared happiness.
At each reunion, I am welcomed by these words: "still alive! "
These photographs are the illustration of the humor, the enthusiasm, and the modernity of an unknown people. Forgotten, threatened, but alive.
– Scarlett Coten
Translated from the original French statement, by LensCulture