This story appears in the February 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Little Bits of Libya A photographer doesn’t always rely on pictures to bring back memories. On his first trip to Libya, in 2008, George Steinmetz bought a watch bearing the face of Muammar Qaddafi. He’s also filled a jar with desert sand and kept dinar notes—souvenirs of the now bygone Qaddafi era. The globe-trotting photographer isn’t shy about acquiring artifacts, from butterflies and beetles (displayed in his glass-topped living-room table) to a sombrero purchased right off a Mexican rodeo cowboy’s head. Once he tasted a giant clam in the Pacific islands, then had a crate built to ship the shell home. —Luna Shyr
Behind the Lens
Q: What’s your favorite item here?
A: The watch. A jewelry store in Tripoli had this Qaddafi watch that was a real rarity. The number is for the 39th anniversary of Qaddafi’s rule. I didn’t realize that in a few years they wouldn’t be making them anymore.
Q: What drew you to the other objects?
A: The knife [at right] is a classic Tuareg knife; you find these in the central Sahara. The locals use it to open a tuna can or slit a goat’s throat. I thought it’d be a great letter opener. The sand from the Libyan border is very old. I put it in an empty coffee jar. The bills will soon be a rarity too. When I was in Libya last year, the people were tired of waiting for new money to be issued.
Q: Is your house messy?
A: I have a big house, and there’s a lot of travel debris in it. My wife sometimes calls it the “museum of natural history.”