Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.
Divided is a two-year investigation into Cairo’s social and architectural changes, self-published for the first time in its entirety in newspaper form.
Author: Olivier Laurent
25 Jan 2012 Tags: Documentary
Jason Larkin had been working for two years on Divided when he and journalist Jack Shenker decided to publish it in newspaper format. “We never thought about how it was going to end up,” Larkin tells BJP. “Jack was writing long essays, but when they were published in The Guardian or other titles, they were condensed. We thought it would be nice to publish unabridged essays.”
Divided is the story of how the megacity, Cairo, is turning itself inside out. “The project started when I was living very close to the American University of Cairo,” says Larkin. “I remember when the university announced it would be moving to the outskirts of Cairo, a lot of people were surprised. The university sees a lot of students from abroad thinking they would be studying in Cairo, but instead they’d find themselves in the desert.”
Larkin checked the situation out for himself, visiting the construction sites of these huge, new compounds. “There was a lot going on, but no one was speaking about it in Cairo,” he says. “I started investigating, and found these huge developments.” Quickly he realised that once completed, there would be a massive exodus of people from the city to the outskirts.
But these new cities lacked “all the bits they need to function as normal cities,” he explains. “There are huge compounds, ministries, headquarters, office blocks, but no social housing.” The poorest and working classes wouldn’t be able to move to these new towns, in effect dividing Cairo’s population, he says. “I was alarmed by that. I wondered how Cairo was going to change when people start to move there.”
His images, with Shenker’s essays, have now been released in a 32-page newspaper self-published by Larkin in association with Panos Pictures. “There were many reasons for choosing this format – the first one was because of the elections in Egypt. I really liked the idea of coming out with something free that I’d be able to pass on to universities or people learning the politics or the language of this country. I thought it would be a great way to reach people. Egypt is in a very complicated situation and I think a lot of the time people miss out on the real context of what is going on. They are just hearing the daily news. I thought it would be great if people were able to pick up a copy of Divided and have a better understanding of what is actually going on in Cairo and in Egypt.”
The format worked well with Larkin’s project. “I didn’t think the series would make a book,” he says. “Mainly because it takes a couple of years to make a book, and my images are of a place in transition. It’s not going to last forever, like the newspaper won’t last forever.”
With a print run of 5000 copies, Cairo Divided is available free online and will be released in Egypt in the new year to coincide with the first anniversary of the protests.
For more information, visit www.cairodivided.info.
Cairo Divided © Jason Larkin.
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