While vacationing on Djerba, a small island in south Tunisia, French photographer Yoann Cimier noticed that locals had a more exuberant way of enjoying the beach than the standard beach towel and umbrella found at seashores worldwide.
“I could see families come from afar with their carts, children, animals, mopeds, and set up their seaside camps composed of makeshift shelters that were both rudimentary and absolutely ingenious,” Cimier says.
He watched from his hotel room as Tunisian beachgoers set up elaborate nomadic encampments on the shore—tents propped up by car trunks, donkey carts, tree branches, and more.
Intrigued, Cimier ventured out with his camera to capture the unintentional artistry of the beach shelters, each one framed by a backdrop of white sand and blue sea and sky.
“I was determined to find beauty where others saw ugliness,” Cimier explained. While some might decry the encampments a blight on an otherwise pristine shore, he saw in them a symbol of freedom and a continuation of Tunisia’s Bedouin heritage.
Some families set up camp on the public beach for a day, others for a weekend, and some for the entire summer. While the children played in the sand, the parents would fish, barbecue, listen to music, and sip tea.
“In Europe and more widely in the West today, it is strictly forbidden to go camping on the beach or in the wild, other than in paying parks reserved for this purpose,” Cimier explained. “This freedom in the Maghreb is finally quite unique, even if the environment can suffer from this lack of regulation. There results from this little anarchy a great poetry—that's what interested me as a photographer.”
Cimier was so drawn to the Tunisian lifestyle and landscape that he has since made the country his base of operations.
While most foreign visitors don’t go so far as to set up residence, Tunisia’s beaches are becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination.
Like other countries in the region, Tunisia's travel industry has been shaken by security concerns in recent years, particularly following a pair of terrorist attacks on popular tourist areas in 2015. But visitors have since returned en masse, with the country’s tourism minister predicting numbers will hit a record high in 2018, according to Reuters.
It appears that, for the foreseeable future, the beach campers will have plenty of company.
Yoann Cimier is a French photographer based in Tunisia. See more of his work on his website.
Abby Sewell is a freelance journalist based in Beirut. She covers travel, politics, and culture with a focus on the Middle East. Follow her on Twitter @sewella.