Little Bits of Libya

Globe-trotting photographer George Steinmetz isn't shy about acquiring artifacts. Here are some of his favorite items from Libya.

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.”