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Lazhar Mansouri

I saw such a wonderful photography show today -- by accident -- although it isn't alt, I suggest that anyone with access to Soho before this Saturday would rejoice in a visit.

Lazhar Mansouri (1932-1985): Algeria: Portraits of a Village, 1950-1970
Westood Gallery, 568 Broadway, NYC

I'd seen the article in the Times (2 Fridays ago, IIRC) but the photo they reproduced came through so badly I dismissed it. Today, being on the same floor for another show, I wandered in and was transfixed.

Mansouri was an Algerian Jew who fled Algeria during the time of the French when Islamification meant persecution for Jews, and particular risk for him, as he'd photographed, for instance, tribal women without their veils, whose faces had never been seen by a man other than their husband. Tho that's only a detail.

To quote the Times article: "He apprenticed with a local portrait photographer, then set up a studio of his own in the back of a barbershop. Townspeople, neighbors, came to have portraits made, to celebrate an occasion -- a birth, a graduation, a military induction -- or to document a relationship or to create a personal keepsake."

True, none of that is out of the ordinary. What is extraordinary is that the portraits are stunning and affecting. Subjects posed themselves and chose their own accessories ("attributes"). Disfarmer comes to mind, but, though I value Disfarmer, these portraits are more intense, beautiful and exotic. (But come to think of it: Chris, add Disfarmer to your list of great photography books !)

Mansouri, leaving in fear, was going to burn all his photographs, but a friend persuaded him not to, promising to hide them instead... which he did for more than 30 years. They were ultimately relocated and brought to Switzerland, where 5 sets of prints were made... etc.

That's enough story... see these portraits if possible.