POV Female Beirut

JTF (just the facts): A complete series of 5 individual books from 5 separate female photographers from Beirut, Lebanon, published using the same general parameters:

  • Lamia Maria Abillama, Clashing Realities
    Published by oodee Books in 2015 (here). Softcover, 28 pages, with 20 colour photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, numbered by hand.
  • Caroline Tabet, Disintegrated Objects
    Published by oodee Books in 2015 (here). Softcover, 28 pages, with 13 colour photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, numbered by hand.
  • Randa Mirza, Parallel Universe & Beirutopia
    Published by oodee Books in 2015 (here). Softcover, 28 pages, with 16 colour photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, numbered by hand.
  • Lara Tabet, The Reeds
    Published by oodee Books in 2015 (here). Softcover, 28 pages, with 21 colour and black and white photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, numbered by hand.
  • Ayla Hibri, Real Prince
    Published by oodee Books in 2015 (here). Softcover, 28 pages, with 22 colour photographs. In an edition of 100 copies, numbered by hand.

POV Female Beirut is also available in a special edition (here). This includes a copy of each of the five monographic publications hosted in screen-printed box, as well as limited edition photographs from each photographer (20.32 x 15.24 cm, all signed and numbered). In an edition of 10. (Cover and spread shots of each book below.)

Comments/Context: Damien Poulain, founder of the independent publishing house oodee, started the POV Female project back in 2011 with the idea of actively promoting the work of young, lesser known female photographers from diverse geographies, expanding the reach of the complex questions of gender, location, and gaze they were exploring. Each series highlights the work of five photographers through the publication of five individual photobooks. In the past four years, POV Female has featured photographers from a range of unexpected and culturally varied places: London (2011), Tokyo (2012), Johannesburg (2013), and Bogota (2014). Published recently, the final project in the series highlights the work of young female photographers from Beirut, Lebanon, bringing many of the complexities of the Middle East into view for a wider audience.

The current POV Female edition features the photographers Ayla Hibri, Lamia Maria Abillama, Randa Mirza, Caroline Tabet and Lara Tabet, and while all of artists have studied and lived abroad for some period in their lives, they have all returned to Beirut and currently work and live there. Their five projects are wholly different and unique, but the city’s traumatic war history and erratic present run through them all as a recurring theme. The projects cover quite a bit of ground: the immediate aftermath of recent conflicts, wartime as seen by women who stay at home, photomontages of the city’s conflicting parallel words, a shadowy exploration of public space, and a fascination with a Yemeni subculture of motorbike riders. Each book and each project stands on its own, and as a series they offer a complex and sensitive vision of the city.

In Clashing Realities, portrait photographer Lamia Maria Abillama shows women of various ages dressed in military uniform. In this case, the uniform is just a prop – none of these women has served in the military or directly participated in the conflict, yet all of them have been affected by it. The uniform is a visual symbol of the violence they have witnessed and the way the war has invaded their personal spaces. Abillama photographs her subjects in their domestic environments, and the mix of home and military is often incongruous – her women pose in camouflage fatigues against book shelves, with Christmas trees, sitting at desks, or perched on beds. An older woman is captured as she quietly sits on a sofa; she too wears a uniform, with a black scarf covering her head and her eyes are full of sorrow and loss. Most of these women look back at the camera, and their gaze is clear and strong, carrying the heavy weight of war. Clashing Realities doesn’t offer many personal stories or details, it rather shows a collective intrusion into everyday identity.

Caroline Tabet’s Disintegrated Objects offers a more immediate and tangible perspective on the war and its consequences. The images for this series were taken on 14 August 2006, the first day of the ceasefire, and chronicle the tatters of what remained – a red child’s coat covered in dust, a discarded family photo album, muddy toys, and other personal possessions found in the rubble of the suburbs of Beirut. Destruction, dirt, broken shards of building materials, and dust serve as the backdrop for these found still lifes. As remaining fragments of personal stories, they are a powerful reminder of numerous lives upended by the conflict. The book’s telescoping layout helps to build tension in the visual narrative: the first photo is positioned in the upper right corner and each following one is a slightly bigger, making the last image a full spread. The final picture is a close up of a pair of black boots covered in mud, abandoned in middle of the destroyed urban area, lost and unclaimed.

Randa Mirza uses digital technology and surreal perspectives to draw attention to the conflict. The book brings together images from two series, Parallel Universes and Beirutopia. In Parallel Universes, Mirza masterfully combines images from the 1975 and 2006 Lebanese wars with the shots of tourists, creating striking and almost painfully misplaced visuals. In one image, she mixes an inferno of burning tires on the streets of Beirut with the figures of two lounging men peacefully drinking cold Coca-Cola and smoking. In another, a smiling blond girl shows a goofily optimistic V-sign while a handful of soldiers, a tank, and an old woman filling a blue canister with water linger in the background. Using opposing visual juxtapositions, Mirza’s photocollages uncomfortably mix conflicting words. The Beirutopia project uses a similar technique, inserting elements of destruction and decay into blue sky shots of perfect city-of-the-future buildings. In Mirza’s Beirut, the utopian future clashes roughly with heavy reality.

Lara Tabet’s work offers a very different glance at the city of Beirut. Her dark, blurry images, produced in collaboration with Michelle Daher, explore the intersecting ideas of public space, memory, and body. Shot after the sunset in one of the very few public parks in Beirut, the images wander from bushes lightened in the dark, to obscure figures, couples, and nude silhouettes. Hazy images of a young woman wearing a black dress appear in the beginning of the book, and we see her again at the end as she takes off her clothes and disappears in the darkness. Another set of black and white pictures jittering with blurred multiple exposures documents men in the park as they look for illicit sexual encounters. These impressionistic snapshots of Tabet’s dreams and memories mix documentation and staging, blurring the line between reality and imagination.

The final project by Ayla Hibri takes us outside Beirut proper, as she explores a subculture of motorbike riders she met in Yemen. Drawn to their distinct look and community, she captured the spirit of the men – men who obviously spent a big part of their lives taking care of their metal companions, and yet were far from typical macho riders. Hibri’s pictures reveal proud men who ride their bikes in flip-flops and wear white cloth instead of a helmet. When they are not on the road, they spend time in groups, chewing khat (a popular plant stimulant) and loitering, and occasionally serving as unofficial taxi drivers – cheap and convenient. Their colorful bikes are carefully decorated with carpets, goat skins, nets, ropes, tassels, etc. Between young kids who proudly take the front seat (maybe just for a photo), a string of recently caught fish and a blue plastic jerrycan with fresh water, and photo-ready poses with the city landscape in the background, Hibri documents the diversity and proud passion of these characters, showing both the seriousness of their hobby and their very real humanity.

All the books in the POV Female series were produced using the same format (roughly the same size, number of pages, typography, paper, printing, etc), the only distinction between series is the cover color – POV Female Beirut comes in a light beige. In a recent interview, Poulain said, “Beirut is a city that questions us through its history, culture and identity. It was the perfect city to work with”. As a series, these five Beirut books restlessly meditate on these intertwined themes, pushing and pulling on the collective experience from different angles. Given the tumult and change evident in the pictures and in the disparate photographic approaches used to document them, there is likely more vibrant looking to be done.

Collector’s POV: Of the five photographers included in this series of books, only two appear to have obvious gallery representation: Caroline Tabet is represented by Art Factum Gallery in Beirut (here), while Lamia Maria Abillama is represented by Galerie Tanit in Munich (here). Lara Tabet, Ayla Hibri, and Randa Mirza do not appear top have gallery representation at this time. Since none of these photographers has any significant secondary market history, gallery retail and/or connection directly with the artists themselves via their websites (linked in the sidebar) seem to be the best options for those collectors interested in following up.

Ayla Hibri, Caroline Tabet, Lamia Maria Abillama, Lara Tabet, Randa Mizra, oodee

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