x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Even Libya's rebels need to eat

Photographer Bryan Denton spends a day with rebels in Ras Lanuf to capture what he calls an "important glimpse into the formation of what may be a new Libya".

Libyan rebels make tuna sandwiches for their comrades at a rebel position in Ras Lanuf.
Libyan rebels make tuna sandwiches for their comrades at a rebel position in Ras Lanuf.

RAS LANUF, LIBYA // The fighting between anti-Qaddafi Libyan rebels and government forces loyal to the colonel has been some of the heaviest I've experienced in my career, which has included stints in Afghanistan, Georgia and Lebanon. For many of Libya's rebels, the uprising and military campaigns that have followed it have been their first experience with both the media and combat: those who took up arms at this seminal moment in their country's history include cafe workers, auto mechanics and unemployed young men.

For many of us, the first week of photo-taking was filled with celebratory signs, flags and, ultimately, war, as the opposition met the steel wall of Qaddafi armour and artillery in Ras Lanuf. As a result, I, with Kevin Larkin, The National's foreign picture editor, thought it would be interesting to explore the quieter images of the Libyan rebels, because so little is known about both the make-up and potential of this new face of eastern Libya.

It was more difficult than the resulting photographs would suggest. The majority of the pictures were made at checkpoints near the strategic oil refinery of Ras Lanuf, snapped in between government air strikes that were as terrifying as they were sudden and without warning. One moment I would be taking pictures of Rebels Making Tuna Sandwiches, and the next I was running for cover as jets screamed down from overhead. Spending so much time at an easy target for aerial bombardment may seem foolish, but the checkpoints in question were the barracks, mosques, kitchens, ammunition dumps and lounges that the motley crew of shibab, or students, called home as they attempted to hold their ground. If I was to get to know these men to document their lives behind the scenes, this is where I had to be.

There has been much speculation about the rebels. Col Qaddafi has said they are members of al Qa'eda or they've had drugs put into their Nescafé. In reality, the number of long beards are equal to the number of hipster-esque tight jeans - all united under an idea that was less a political platform than an emotional hatred for the brutality of the regime and a desire for genuine change.

As their revolution progresses, now under the protection of the UN-imposed no-fly zone, the rebels' level of organisation will increase, and the media's access to them will probably require a greater level of negotiation. It is for that reason that I find these images to be an important glimpse into the formation of what may be a new Libya - or the partitioning of the old one.

Bryan Denton has shot for Time, Newsweek, The Times of London and Der Spiegel, among others. To see more of Denton's photographs, visit http://bryandenton.photoshelter.com