giorgos_280On 17 December 2010 Mohammed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor from Sidi Bouzid, set himself on fire. Bouazizi sold fruits on the street to support himself and his family. After police confiscated his electronic weighing scales and humiliated him in public because he did not have a permit, Bouazizi took a can of gasoline, doused and set himself alight with a match. His death inspired mass demonstrations. Thousands of Tunisians took the streets. They clashed with police and soon enough President Ben Ali fled the country with his family. His action sparkled a revolution in Northern Africa.

Tunisia’s uprising paved the way for similar revolts in the Arab world. In Egypt, anti-government protesters organised through Facebook one of the biggest demonstrations in their nation’s history. Over 850 people were killed during the protests that lasted from January to February. After 18 days of persistence the demonstrators won. President Hosni Mubarak resigned. In Libya, on 17 February, what had been called a peaceful demonstration turned into an armed revolution. Day by day the death toll rose. Each funeral of a protester became another demonstration. The conflict spread across the country killing about 30,000 people. They called these uprisings the “Arab Spring”, a name in anticipation of the new, improved life that was going to flourish in Northern Africa.

I began covering the Arab revolution in Egypt. The second day I was in Cairo, near Tahrir Square, members of Mubarak’s security forces arrested me, beat me up badly and imprisoned me for a short period of time, during which my camera memory cards as well as some rolls of film I had with me for another camera were all confiscated. At the hotel I had a plastic Holga camera together with 10-15 films. The next day, after recovering, I decided to take on the streets again and start photographing. It was the first time I’d worked with a Holga camera and to be honest, it proved quite difficult. There were times when I had to open the back of the camera to load it with new film while chaotic scenes were taking place. It felt really weird, I was afraid I’d fail to capture all these things going on in front of my eyes. When I developed the first films, I noticed this very particular result. I also realised that because I was working with a Holga, I paid extra attention to the pictures I took. During my following trips to Tunisia and Libya, I always carried the Holga with me, with the intention to complete the Arab Spring Project.

For the Arab Spring Project, I would like to thank the photography group “18+” as well as fellow photojournalist Lefteris Pitarakis of AP, for his know-how and his valuable help and support while working together on the field.

Giorgos Moutafis

The Arab Spring by Giorgos Moutafis from foto8 on Vimeo.