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Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery
Steve Schapiro, Martin Luther King Jr. (with Flag), Selma March, 1965 © Steve Schapiro & Fahey/Klein Gallery

Photomed: The Lebanese New Wave, Between Nostalgia and Poetry

Between the shadows of Lebanon’s past and today, the photographers exhibiting their work at the Ex-Maqam gallery in the sanitized Saifi Village district in downtown Beirut represent the “young” generation, even though some of them are almost forty.

Born during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), their photographs are influenced by this period, which for them was synonymous with exile, loss and a nostalgia for a bygone, peaceful era they never knew. Artists create personal worlds that often echo the world that surrounds them. Caroline Tabet loses sight of Beirut as it is gradually lost to the power of destruction. Only shadows remain, shapes, watercolors.

Lara Zankoul, 26, is the youngest artist at the exhibition. Magical, poetic, but also forging ahead, she’s the type who prefers to have her head in the clouds rather than her feet on the ground, in search of a better world.

What is she saving herself from? From the loneliness that seems to haunt the Austrian-Lebanese Tanya Traboulsi? A photographer of intimacy and emotions, she exposes herself in her sepia-toned self-portraits taken in a mirror, cold and removed, but we see something of ourselves in her isolation.

Next we find ourselves face to face with Emile, a guard at the Sursock House, a palace belonging to one of Beirut’s most famous families. This frail man takes visitors into the dream world of neo-Mamluk façades, seen through the macabre lens of Joanna Andraos, a master of chiaroscuro. We go further, the shadows still at our heels. With Emile Issa we’re caught between the destruction of his country and the hope for a better future, seen through the figure of the eternal woman who evolves throughout the series Le Projet Shadows.

Ghadi Smat and Mazen Jannoun complete this overview of the younger generation of Lebanese photographers by showing us the country as it is today. One finds a republic that has, “not matured since its birth,” in photographs that are more documentary than artistic. The other roamed the country from north to south along the Mediterranean. We know where we are once we glimpse one of the hookah-smoking sunbathers seen all along the Lebanese coast.

The selection is varied, incomplete. Culture is not a priority in this country as it seeks to strike a delicate balance. But the photographers are fighting to develop their art, and this struggle in turn nourishes their creativity.

January 17 – February 16, 2014
Gallery Ex-Maqam, Saifi Village