Scarlett Coten France
My ongoing project, Mectoub, focuses on men from Arab countries and the Mediterranean world and particularly the young urban generation, which ever since the Arab Spring has been demanding more individual freedom.
From these regions, which are always in the glare of the media spotlight, we see images of men caught up in violent current events, we rarely see them in a more confidential light. I knew Arab Spring was one of the big stories of our time but I felt there had to be another angle, another way of commenting on the immense change blowing through the region. In choosing as my subject matter single young men with a desire to transcend the limits of their day jobs and restrictive social mores, I have found my way to explore the demographic tensions underlying the Arab Spring. "Mectoub" takes you far away from the tumult and despair of the front lines to intimate spots where a young Arab man can play out some of his fantasies.
In 2012, I set off on this adventure, seeking out personal encounters first in the cities of Morocco, then in 2013 in Egypt and recently in Palestine. The camera gives me the power to approach strangers. In the street or in cafés, I pick out men that have something about them that makes them stand out. I explain that I want to take their photograph as an attempt to show them just as they are, to be sure of avoiding clichés, and that this project is an alternative to the attention that is often focused on the situation of women in their country. I meet them in a place that I’ve found, an interior, an empty café, the hallway of an apartment block, any setting that inspires me and says something about the country we’re in. The idea is to create a space of intimacy in which they will feel relaxed and free enough to reveal something of their inner selves, their personality, their sensitivity, their fragility or their sensuality.
In countries where freedom is hidden, exposing oneself is an act of rebellion. In my role as a female foreigner, I challenge them to be as real as possible, offering them the opportunity to turn conventions upside down. I believe that these young men are driven by a desire to be part of a shared struggle, the struggle to be able to follow our individual aspirations. And for them, much more so than for us, it’s a dangerous battle.
This project is a pretext for meeting these men, and the meetings are a pretext for describing the men and their country, by means of a lived experience. "Mectoub" is an intimate documentary in which the dialogue between portraits and interiors creates a heightened reality and allows the viewer to see these regions of the world through the prism of my own subjectivity.
Today I continue the project in others cities of the Middle East and North Africa: Algiers, Tunis, Beyrouth, Amman, Teheran …