333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu /  333 Saints : l’esprit du savoir à Tombouctou

This photographic book in English and French by Alexandra Huddleston tells a story of discovery: exploring a rich and beautiful African intellectual culture, that of the ancient manuscript libraries of Timbuktu and the culture of scholarship that created them.

Timbuktu, at the edge of the vast Sahara Desert, was little known in the West–except as a byword for the remote and exotic–until militant Islamist groups destroyed many of its religious shrines and ancient manuscripts in 2012.  This hauntingly beautiful book captures a way of life and learning as it was shortly before the militants overran the city.   These photographs depict a moment in time now almost gone, fading into history.  They show a culture of moderate Islam that is under threat–a deeply rooted, ancient Islamic tradition of tolerance, erudition, and faith–and a city that has built its very identity around scholarship and a love of books and learning.


333SaintsBookCover.jpg

The publication of 333 Saints was made possible by a crowd-funding campaign.

You can learn more about the campaign on the 333 Saints Kickstarter webpage.

Scroll down this page to read a series of testimonials about the work.

Status: Published, September 2013

Author: Alexandra Huddleston

Imprint: Kyoudai Press

Photographs: 37 (including cover)

Other Text: quotes, captions, postscript

Language: English and French

Medium: Hardcover, offset press

Size: 6” by 9” / 96 pages

Edition Size: 500

1st Edition: 2013

 

BUY THE BOOK:

 

US DOMESTIC ORDERS

1 COPY - $50 (includes shipping)

INTERNATIONAL ORDERS

1 COPY - $66 (includes shipping)

Your Paypal payments will be made to Blind Cat Valentine LLC.

Please understand that Blind Cat Valentine is a small business, so we do everything ourselves--including packing and shipping the books.  If we are traveling, the shipment of your order could be delayed (though, we will make every effort to contact you ASAP if this will be the case).

To buy multiple copies of the book, to inquire about wholesale pricing, or if you are a distributor, contact Alexandra Huddleston directly at: blindcatvalentine {at} gmail.com


View more photographs from the book on Alexandra Huddleston’s PORTFOLIO WEBSITE.

Book tease slideshow:


Excerpt from the book’s afterword:

By Alexandra Huddleston

“This book has been under construction since I left Timbuktu in 2007. It has gone through numerous drafts in the course of its evolution. Indeed, I thought I had a close-to-final draft in the fall of 2011. A few months later, on the first of April 2012, a mixed group of rebels took over the city of Timbuktu, cementing their control over the north of Mali. This military offensive took advantage of a coup in the south that rendered the central government unable to react to what was happening in the north.

All at once, my photographs, which had been documents of contemporary life, became relics of a vanishing history. This transformation happens to all photographs eventually, but this time it happened in the course of hours. Inevitably, I had to re-evaluate the purpose of the book. I had intended my work to show a different side of Africa from the stories of war and famine that have dominated the continent’s representation in the US media. I hope it still does, but now the photographs also provide essential cultural background to understanding Mali’s current crises (current, that is, at the time of publication)…"

 
 
…now comes a brilliant young American photographer and writer, Alexandra Huddleston, who has given a substantial portion of the last eight years of her life documenting, in magnificent images and moving words, the dire threat that faces Timbuktu, both its living people and its living treasures. She has put all her work into a book, a volume that will hold you prisoner…
— Frank T. Kryza, Ezine Articles
In our tumultuous world where rapid change is often glorified for itself alone, Huddleston’s intimate portraits of Timbuktu eloquently capture the enduring rhythms and quiet dignity of residents’ faith and their deep investment in Islamic learning. For many men and women this legacy serves as a source of strength against economic and political turmoil and a guidepost for future generations.
— Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi, Curator, African Ethnology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Affiliated video:

"333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship Under Threat" is a 5 minute video created by Alexandra Huddleston in 2012 shortly after militant groups took over the north of Mali in that year.

Currents events have now surpassed the moment at which the work was created.  It nonetheless provides important background to the ongoing crisis in the north of Mali, as well as to the published book 333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu.


Testimonials:

In our tumultuous world where rapid change is often glorified for itself alone, Huddleston’s intimate portraits of Timbuktu eloquently capture the enduring rhythms and quiet dignity of residents’ faith and their deep investment in Islamic learning. For many men and women this legacy serves as a source of strength against economic and political turmoil and a guidepost for future generations.
— Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi, Curator, African Ethnology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
Since I first saw Alexandra Huddleston’s beautiful Timbuktu photographs on the Internet I awaited their publication in a book. Now ‘333 Saints: A Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu’ has appeared my waiting is more than rewarded.

This is a very well made and excellently designed book. The photos look stunning and the concise and insightful texts draw the reader’s attention to Timbuktu’s rich and longstanding tradition of Islamic learning. Considering the recent events in Northern Mali, this is a timely and urgent message.
— Dr. Geert Mommersteeg, Utrecht University, author of "In the City of the Marabouts: Islamic Culture in West Africa"
Alexandra’s passions for photography, publishing and the people of Mali shine through every page of this subtle evocation of Timbuktu’s Islamic learning, captured five years before the events of 2012 focused world attention on the dangers to its documentary heritage.
— Dr. Richard Fardon, Professor of West African Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
As a frequent traveler to Timbuktu and as someone who cares deeply about this fabled place, I greatly appreciate both the art and research of the work of ‘333 Saints: a Life of Scholarship in Timbuktu,’ capturing what one of her interviewees aptly describes as ‘the memory of an entire people.’ Timbuktu deserves more positive attention for its history and the interesting place it is and Ms. Huddleston’s work does just that.
— Barry Hoffner, Founder of Caravan to Class
‘333 Saints’ provides a rare visual glimpse into the religious culture of Timbuktu, a city known to most of us only by its name and fabled inaccessibility. But the world revealed in Alexandra Huddleston’s photographic volume is very real and very accessible to the varied currents of contemporary ‘globalization,’ whether well disposed or hostile.

Huddleston resided for ten months in 2006-7 in Timbuktu, photographing aspects of daily life with the intention of showing ‘a different side of Africa from the stories of war and famine’ that often dominate media representations. The relaxed intimacy of the images in this book attest to her success in achieving her aim.

But the photographs published here are less than half those proposed for an earlier draft in which images documenting the religious heritage of the community were interspersed with others illustrating life in the street, in the home, tradesmen at work, wedding celebrations, lads playing football, etc.

The decision to publish a slimmer volume focusing on Muslim scholarship was taken in response to the tragic events that beset Mali in 2012. The nihilist ideologues who assumed power in the north of the country imposed a draconian series of measures intended to ‘cleanse’ the peoples under their control from all allegedly non-Islamic influences and practices. They targeted both popular and religious culture, and ultimately threatened to destroy Timbuktu’s invaluable manuscript collections, most of which were saved by an extraordinary operation to remove them secretly to a safe location.

The photographs in ‘333 Saints’ convey the ‘feel’ of Islamic religious culture in Timbuktu prior to this crisis. They portray the personal relationships through which Islamic learning has been transmitted for centuries, and illustrate some of the thousands of manuscripts that constitute the intellectual heritage of the city. Alexandra Huddleston’s comments help us to contextualize and ‘read’ these images, but most of them speak for themselves because of the empathy and respect with which they were taken.
— Dr. Louis Brenner, Emeritus Professor of the History of Religion in Africa at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London