Photography, poetry and the history of Saharan nomads, the Tuaregs, have been brought together in a new book by photographer Henrietta Butler, who has been travelling to Tuareg regions since 2001. Butler is a former Guardian photographer and her first visit was for Guardian Travel. She was invited back to photograph the first Festival of Air in Niger and since then has visited many times staying up to a month, mostly in Niger. Her work is captivating, perhaps partly because the images are taken on film, often on a medium format 6×7 camera. With only 10 shots per roll, each image is carefully timed and balanced. Not for Butler the clack, clack, clack of many digital photographers. Her images are quiet and considered.
The book, The Tuareg or Kel Tamasheq and a History of the Sahara, includes the work of varied experts, past and present. Like Henri Delord, who wrote an award winning journal on Tuaregs in 1955. “I love his writing,” says Butler. “While studying Tuareg life in the nearby mountains, he also describes the then wild west town of Tamanrasset, Algeria, with all the Europeans after a piece of the Sahara and this was when the French colonisation of Algeria was coming to an end and the Tuareg way of life was still relatively traditional. Other contributors are Professor Mohamed Aghali-Zakara, researcher of Tuareg language and literature, and Professor Pierre Boilley, an historian and a key commentator on the current political turmoil in Mali and the Director of L’Institut de Mondes Africaines”.
Butler also highlights how the Tuaregs, who were the masters of the Sahara for over a thousand years, with ancient territories in Algeria, Libya, Niger and Mali have been sidelined by the international community during, in Mali, over 50 years of conflict with the new nation state, and in Niger, 25 years of on-off rebellion. Businessmen and politicians are more interested in the wealth beneath the Tuaregs’ land, notably uranium and oil. A fascinating read and an amazing culture and you can order it here … tuaregtime