Scarlett Coten is an independent French female photographer who dedicates herself essentially to personal, long term projects. Since the 2000s the Arab countries are at the heart of her photographic practice, which explores the themes of identity and intimacy. Scarlett won the 2016 Leica Oskar Barnack Award for her project “Mectoub”.
After graduating from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, France, Coten traveled to Egypt to realize Still alive, spending months through the Sinai desert with the Bedouins. Her strong attachment to this people and their stories, and her immersion in the Bedouin society bring a unique and remarkable intimacy to this work. The series produced over three years was published by Actes sud in 2009. Coten was awarded the Humanity Photo Award in 2004 in Beijing, China, and nominated at the NYPH Festival in 2009 for her book.
From 2012 to 2016, following the Arab Spring, Scarlett Coten has been engaged in the project Mectoub, photographing men in seven Arab countries. From North Africa to the Middle East, she spots men on the streets and invite them to pose for her.
As an artist, Coten positions herself as a woman who gazes at men, and in so doing, flips the convention of whose right it is to look, thereby affirming that the camera itself has a gender. The series bring into view the audacity of a generation which has adopted an emancipated attitude to life. Mectoub challenges traditional notions of gender, concepts of masculinity and the men’s relationship to women. The portraits plunge us deep into our preconceptions, they show a reality that is unfamiliar : the Arab male and his multiple identities. One of complexity and, in particular, modernity.
By paying attention to the politics of seeing and being seen, Coten raises universal questions of identity and power, freeing the way of looking at the world from stereotypes whilst adding another point of view, the female gaze point of view on men; a very much subversive act, which by extension, invites the viewer to reconsider the supremacy of the masculine perspective in the history of art.