Co-edited by Nour Salamé, founder of Kaph Books, and Clémence Cottard Hachem, Head of Collections at the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, and sponsored by Byblos Bank, On Photography in Lebanon is a collective publication that invites forty contributing authors from various areas of expertise to share their insight on photography. It also displays 380 photographs exclusively shot in Lebanon with the intention of opening a conversation on the mediums fragility and continual transformation at the cusp of a digital revolution.
Throughout the 19th century, Lebanon was considered as a hub for orientalists who used photography as a means to record, recreate and illustrate the visible. The country’s rich visual history metaphorically represents the fragile and transformative states of a practice that has become the most universal, accessible and essential tool for communication.
The first of its kind in Lebanon, this publication explores photography from the earliest of times. Made up of a collection of essays, reflections, conversations and photographs, the book is divided into six frames of references, or focuses that share the diverse perspectives of the Operator, Apparatus, Referent, Object, Transmission, and Viewer. The book provides a non-sequential narrative of the medium’s evolution depicted through the many histories of the country.
Coming from different parts of the world, academics, journalists, photographers, film-makers, art historians, archeologists, and others discuss the iconography that plays a crucial role in combining the abundant fragments of Lebanon’s rich legacy.
The 380 photographs dating back to the 19th century till present day create a visual dialogue that allows the reader to question the medium whilst developing a critical awareness on the subject matter. Salamé and Hachem had access to almost all the photographs found in the book. Gathered from major institutions such as Sursock Museum, Arab Image Foundation, Saint Joseph University (USJ), American University of Beirut (AUB), the Library of Congress in the United States, Bibliothèque Nationale de France and private collections of Tarek Nahas amongst others, eighty percent of the photographs were digitized and reproduced.
A sophisticated yet straightforward structure, the editorial concept of the book is carefully designed to highlight the six focuses that are distributed inconsistently throughout the publication. Each contribution can be associated with several frames of reference. In doing so, this book invites the readers to join the conversation.
After sixty-five versions were created for the cover of the book, the final one featured an image that comes from a piece of art by Vartan Avakian. “The silver fragments represents our way of thinking about the fragmentation and this polyvalent way to think about photography.” Says Hachem. It also illustrates the fragmentation of the many cultures, and identities that have shaped our collective imagery.
From the first daguerreotype of Baalbek taken by Joseph Philibert Girault de Prangey shot between 1842 and 1844 to Zaid Antar’s series Dark Matter produced in 2017, On Photography in Lebanon examines how various bodies of work, old and new, elevate or conceal a sense of historical consciousness. It blurs the boundaries and extensively alters the interpretive frameworks offered by images and writing. It aims to educate the reader by putting forth new ways of analyzing and questioning the visual culture.
The book is found in bookstores across Lebanon. It is distributed worldwide and can be purchased online.
A copy was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and in November of 2018 Kaph Books will be participating in Paris Photo Fair where they will host the second launch of the book.