The artists weren’t above roughhousing in the middle of Dar al-Mussawir’s exhibition space during Wednesday’s opening night, but such fittingly childish theatrics in no way detracted from the quality of the young photographers’ work on display.
“Ru’aa,” Arabic for “Vision,” is the third time that Zakira, an association dedicated to the teaching of photographic theory and practice, has trained and then exhibited the work of youth photographers. In this most recent manifestation some 80 youths aged 14-18, from seven countries, produced thousands of images from which the Zakira team selected the best to be displayed at the Dar al-Mussawir space in Hamra.
“We trained 40 children from the Nabaa area,” Rayan Batlouni, a Zakira member, says at the opening, adding that most of these children are refugees. They hail from Syria , Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines and Iraq . The other 40 youths trained by the association for “Ru’aa” come from Sidon and are mainly from Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, she explained.
The resultant images – or at least the best of them – once again harness the sort of charm found in Zakira’s earlier project “Lah’za,” Arabic for “Glance,” which opened a unique window on Palestinian refugee life though the disposable cameras the organization distributed to 500 children in Lebanon’s 12 official camps. This time around, viewers are permitted the same insight, although “Ru’aa,” perhaps due to the fact that older children also participated, offers something more in terms of composition and form.
Mahmoud Mohammad’s photograph of a woman contemplating a mannequin wearing a wedding dress is of particular note in this regard. The Palestinian youth from Ain al-Hilweh has set his shot up so it appears the thoughtful woman could simply step forward and fill the place of the faceless mannequin, successfully fulfilling her ambition in just a single stride. What the image represents is undoubtedly a cliche, but the manner in which Mohammad captures it is refreshing.
Elsewhere, the images – which are all shot on digital cameras using manual settings – take as their subject the industrious world of the photographers’ neighborhoods.
Ivan Sarmad, an Iraqi living in Nabaa, spies with his lens through the window of a cluttered barber’s shop. Two men recline as their barbers go to work. One of these men is being shaved, which is hardly remarkable, but the second man, in the foreground of the image, is having his nose hair removed by threading, lending the image an intimate, if amusing, quality through its cheeky disclosure of male vanity.
A photo by Andrew Awat, another Iraqi from Nabaa, hangs nearby. Awat has honed his camera’s focus on the hands of a seamstress as she works. The hands don’t appear to belong to an elderly woman but they are clearly familiar with hard work. They are also flecked with what appears to be dried paint. Likewise the sewing machine she is using is battered and worn. Both contrast starkly with the pristine white cloth she’s working on, with its perfectly straight hemmed edge.
Two other photographs, hung side-by-side, juxtapose contrasting emotions, although a young boy is the central feature of both.
Tareq al-Qayyem’s picture shows a grinning male youth lounging in a ratty old armchair atop a pile of trash. Qayyem’s subject has thrown his legs over one arm of the chair and is leaning back against the other, just as one might fling oneself into the plush furnishings of an opulent hotel room as soon as the door has clicked shut behind the bellboy. Despite his squalid surroundings, the viewer has no doubt of the subject’s self-possession, of his ability to proclaim any domain his own.
Next to Qayyem’s work is an entirely different picture. Ahmed el-Zir’s photograph is a dark image with only a young boy’s face visible at its center. This boy, although likely the same age as the child in Qayyem’s work, has timid, almost fearful eyes. His lips are parted, revealing his gappy, recently acquired adult front teeth. It’s a discomforting picture - anxiety emanates from its core.
It was therefore some relief that Zir’s subject, his brother, presented himself as a smiling youngster at the opening. He stood in the vicinity of his photograph and proudly told anyone who asked that indeed he was the owner of that apprehensive visage.
From Zakira’s earlier project, Batlouni says, some participants have gone on to work as freelance photographers. Among the cohort featured in “Ru’aa,” she adds that there are certainly some who “want to continue in photography or take it as a profession later on.”
For now though, they may celebrate the success of their first exhibition, even if that means horsing around in the midst of it.
“Ru’aa” is up at Dar al-Mussawir in Hamra until Oct. 16. For more information please call 01-373-347.
By Niamh Fleming-Farrell