Last night I spoke with my wife on the phone and she mentioned the smell of fire. A building next to where she was burned down a few days prior and she could not find peace of mind. Searching electrical outlets for short circuits and going through the place several times before going to bed.
Libya instantly came to mind. A memory-trigger so present that just the conversation sparked flashbacks of explosions and burned out buildings. On arrival in Egypt mid-march all my possessions would hint about the past. Even now, three years on, there is one box of memories I open. One box still containing a whiff of the anger towards Gaddafis reign. Fire.
Negatives covered in ashes. Half melted, almost torn to shreds.
I step over a carpet with Moammar Gaddafis face on it. One of his teeth have been painted black. Horns drawn on his forehead. Ten thousand men is praying in front of me. I'm on a rooftop in Benghazi, Libya early March 2011. Rain is pouring down, delivered with a fine Sahara dust it paints the world brown as it dries. In a basement nearby I uncovered some negatives a few days earlier. Negatives of unknown content and importance. I was but a photography nerd while going through a burned out cellar. A cellar of prison cells and now ashes. Broken glass, cracked tiles and vast amounts of ashes. Binders of documentation scattered across. The anger towards the regime is present everywhere. No thought of conservation, just destruction rooted in decades of fear. In the ashes on what used to be a floor I spot something familiar. A few large format frames. I pick them up. On the ground where I'm standing there are more, some medium format and 35mm. The film is so fragile, partly melted, the ashes is still warm. I collect the little I can find. My libyan companions find something of interest in a binder, but show no interest in my childish joy of discovering a treasure. For me all old photography holds interest. Little did I know about the significance of some of these frames.
It was not until I met Susan Glen more than a year later it became really interesting. She was already curating and researching historic material out of Libya and have put down countless hours, days and weeks conducting interviews. Mapping the content of these ash-covered frames of history.
Some of these images from the pre-Gaddafi era will be presented at Oslo Museum from January 29th 2015
NOTE **Since I found these images I have always been, and will always be, ready to return them to Libya as soon as I know they will be preserved for the future - please contact me with any and all questions**