There’s this photo of Egyptian soldiers in my father’s war album from about 1942 in which each man seems to be wearing his fierce face. The photo is blurry but the facial expressions are surprisingly threatening, an effect which I think is intensified by the dark shadows covering half of almost every face as they stand in the hot sun.
In 2013 I was sitting in the street in Collioure, France, outside the 800-year-old castle, the Château Royal de Collioure, when a lot of soldiers, or rather commandos, arrived to prepare their rubber dinghies to go out on the sea. The scene was a head-turner and naturally I took some photos.
I have just converted one to black and white to compare it with the image of the Egyptian soldiers, and I find a very different picture of practice preparations for battle. However, my photo is nine years old now and though it’s clearer than the 1942 picture, it’s not as good as photos we take today in 2022; it’s slightly pixelated when I zoom in. Still, there’s a definite difference: softness versus clarity. For example, the stones of the castle wall are defined, and the small tower windows at the top are clear, whereas the building behind the Egyptian soldiers is hazy, and zooming in makes it even fuzzier. The focus is on the men, and the background is irrelevant. It’s also interesting that the Egyptian soldiers are looking at the camera, while the French soldiers are oblivious to all observers.
Out of the two photos, I prefer the modern one with its detailed setting and background. The Egyptian photo’s background leaves me wondering about the darkness and verticals of the building.