Did you ever meet someone who had a severe chronic disease, invisible from the outside? A person who looks healthy at first glance but has serious malfunctions in daily life? Even the smallest things take a lot of effort to do and many tasks can’t be accomplished. Someone who’s ill in every corner of the body and the doctors don’t know how to cure the person? photographing in Lebanon
If that person could be a country, it would be Lebanon.
After almost one year and a half of lockdowns and insecurity caused by the pandemic, I was finally able to make new photos again, this time in Lebanon. For many reasons, this was a special trip. Making photos once again after the lowest days of the pandemic, being in a new country, with sunshine, visiting my friend, going to the beach, and eating good food. It sounds perfect. Still, the reality was different. And when it comes to making photos, Lebanon was challenging, in special Beirut. Honestly, I never felt so much insecurity in making photos. photographing in Lebanon
To explain my point, I have to tell you first more about the country of Lebanon.
Lebanon is a small country, known for its excellent food, beautiful beaches, mountain views, nightlife, and unfortunately, its civil war, corruption, and the big explosion in Beirut in august 2020. Today Lebanon has -as I experienced it- all the facilities you wish for. In the first week, we crossed the country by car and had a holiday week. We went from the luxury private beaches in the north to all-inclusive resorts in the mountains and cozy cabinets in the southern forest. We ate amazing food in excellent restaurants with views so beautiful that it almost gave tears to my eyes. photos of Lebanon
When you belong to the happy few with a bank account outside the country you can enjoy all the glory Lebanon once was. Note that for the majority of Lebanese people this life is a faraway dream.
Lebanon had a long civil war between Christian and Islamic parts of the society. Complicated by the influence of Syria, multiple wars with Israel, the presents of Palestinian refugees, Hezbollah, political assassinations, and corruption. This has left the country’s foundation divided and in broken pieces. Protests in 2019 and 2020 were the consequence. At that point, everyone thought Lebanon was at its lowest point. photographing in Lebanon
Unfortunately, it went worse. In August 2020 a big explosion vanished a big part of Beirut’s harbor and the city. Apartments and offices collapsed, leaving an unimaginable ravage in the whole city and beyond. Protests started again and soon after the Lebanese government resigned. When visiting Lebanon -in May 2021- the country had no government and almost no government tasks were in function. The country was in very bad condition.
I knew all this before going to Lebanon. Still, factual knowledge is very different than an emotional experience. The second week we arrived in Beirut, that week was for me the reality check. Coming from a long lockdown in Europe and one week at the beach and in the mountains, the busy, chaotic city life of Beirut was completely different. photographing in Lebanon
The first day in Beirut was overwhelming to me. Beirut is crowded, busy, and badly organized. The damage from the civil war and mostly from the explosion is clearly visible. Buildings still completely destroyed, glass from the explosion still on the streets. The economical crisis was dramatic, one Lebanese pound had almost no value in dollars.
For me, the hardest thing to experience was to see that Lebanon was once a country with prosperity. Beautiful houses were damaged, collapsed, or destroyed. Many people bagged to survive. Streets were of bad quality, traffic lights out of function, tunnels had no light. Before I left I went to the hospital to take a PCR test. Big parts of the hospital were still destroyed, others were fixed enough to have patients again. And so there are many more examples that showed the extremely bad situation of Lebanon in real life.
A big part of the two weeks in Lebanon I felt overwhelmed. This affected the process of making photos. My focus is always on people. When photographing, I‘m searching for scenes of people doing their daily habits. I’m looking for the beauty in that part, the part in which they have a little joy or grace. In Beirut, it was hard to find this and in combination with the feeling of being overwhelmed, I could hardly find focus on the scenes I was searching for.
Overall, the process of photographing and the end results could have been better. There are definitely some good photos created. But honestly, I wanted to make more photos of people. Luckily experience learned me that I’m always better a second time visiting a country. For sure there will be a second time visiting Lebanon!
The photos of Lebanon will follow soon
The photo of this story shows the Mohammed al Amin mosque and in the background the cross of the Maronite Cathedral of Saint George. The flag of Lebanon is on the right. The photo is made at Martyr’s Square in the city center of Beirut.
Watch these episodes of Lebanon if you want to know more about the country. Only available in Dutch:
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