The Orchard Keepers

Photos by Bryony Dunne

In the wake of a revolution…. In the face of global media attention… In light of a wider search for stability…. An ancient, latent energy shines from the Egyptian desert.

The Sinai desert: vast, arid plains interlock with labyrinthine peaks. East meets West; a place of pilgrimage and commerce; home to the world’s most valuable waterway; home too, to trade in drugs, weapons, and people; a venue for border disputes and religious violence. Beyond the headlines, at Sinai’s heart, lie hidden orchards: tiny patches of green life, dating back to biblical times. Tended by a number of dedicated Bedouin from the Gabaliya tribe.
In 2012, I began to photograph the remaining orchard keepers. Influenced by 19th century photographers that traveled the region with mobile studios, I set up a white backdrop in each orchard. At the same time these images offer contrast to this traditional form, by allowing the subject’s natural setting to be visible at the side of the frame, offering the viewer a connection to the real world of the orchard keeper.

The orchards – and their keepers – represent a wealth of knowledge in physical heritage and oral tradition. This wealth is both irreplaceable, and on the verge of being lost. Gardeners find themselves caught between a loyalty to a deep and meaningful tradition, and the encroachment of modernity. During a time of wider instability in Egypt, these gardeners derive a unique strength from their orchards. It is this strength and stability that has become a necessity in each of their daily lives.
Viewers may identify their own truth in these images. My truth is that the journey of its creation gifted me an unexpected path to change. Metamorphosis came from looking inward and backward, as much as it did looking outward and forward. My hope is that the enchanted land of Egypt may, in time, receive a similar gift.

Bryony Dunne is an Irish artist based in Cairo whose work engages Anthropology, Sociology, Ecology, and Visual Arts. Her various projects have sought to explore human’s relationship with the landscape, and the evolution of cultivation and settlements.
She has exhibited internationally, most recently in Johannesburg (2012). She holds a BA in Spatial Design and an MSc from University College Dublin in Cultural Heritage Conservation. Recently she was an invited resident artist at the Townhouse Gallery, Cairo to complete a documentary film that integrates her photography work titled ‘The Orchard Keepers’ (2013). She teaches photography at the German University in Cairo.

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