Art District House of Photography is a gallery in Beirut dedicated exclusively to art photography. Maie El-Hage visits and reports about this unique initiative.
“Visitors say: ‘It is very inspiring to see Art District House of Photography in Beirut, a gallery only for photography,’ and this is just the beginning,” says Maher Attar, founder.
For me, ‘inspiring’ is an understatement. I discovered the gallery on an afternoon stroll in the heart of Gemmayze, Beirut, an area much damaged in the wake of the tragic August 4, 2020 Beirut blast. Indeed, the gallery itself occupies a unique space, one of many that had been severely damaged. The image of that space in my mind was one of rubble, glass and dust; and yet on that cozy November afternoon, I found that image completely redressed. There was elegance, light, clean interior design, and art photography on the walls; the place had been rebirthed.
Art District House of Photography is a space in Gemmayze dedicated exclusively to photography. It includes an exhibition space, a library of photography books, and a studio for shooting. The man behind the project is Maher Attar, highly celebrated photographer with decades of experience working for international photo agencies like AFP and Sygma. Maher’s position in the photography world is unique, having started out as a war photographer during the Lebanese Civil War (1975 – 1990). In 1985, one of his photographs was published on the front page of the New York Times; shortly after that, he signed with AFP. A year and a half later, Sygma recruited him into what he calls a ‘co-production’ system in which the photographer is a co-producer with the agency.
Maher did not leave Lebanon until the war ended; in his own way, he was fighting for his country. Most recently, and after three decades of living abroad, he returned to Lebanon. Maher’s transition from war photography to fine art photography is unique, and carries with it an expression of his love for art. His experience of living in Paris also exposed him to European art culture, in which, he says, “people queue to see art”. Maher brought with him a very specific vision for his gallery; he intends to elevate the status of fine art photography in Lebanon through what he calls “a gallery of haute couture photography”.
So there are now two aspects to Maher’s project: Maher is a photographer who is still producing unique pieces; and Maher is now also running Art District House of Photography. Maher intends to showcase works of art that are of a high quality. Maher insists that when he holds exhibitions for art photographers, he will not be promoting ‘that artist’; rather, he will be promoting ‘the good work’. The quality of the work comes first; this includes the subject, the concept and the quality of the photography. The bar is high, and so it must be.
Maher brought with him a very specific vision for his gallery; he intends to elevate the status of fine art photography in Lebanon through what he calls “a gallery of haute couture photography”.
The current exhibition “Rising Above it” is a project by Maher Attar himself. The landscape photography subject matter is non-typical; Maher chose areas that he describes as ‘raw’ in the snowy mountains of Lebanon. It is white-on-black photography using the unique Lomography technique.
“I focused my images on the virginity of the snow and the stillness of the wind, the immobility of the trees and the forgotten tracks of strangers,” he explains.
In my interpretation, snow is ephemeral and, perhaps, so are these peaceful moments that Maher has captured with his camera. We look at the beautiful work, photographs of high quality material and presentation, and we escape, recalling a Lebanon that was once peaceful and still. In the chaos of the heart of Beirut, we know that acts of creation are, in their own way, acts of rebellion, of resistance. We are all resisting, in our own way. With Maher’s ambitious initiative, his gallery and his project are his own way of continuing the fight for Lebanon.
Art District House of Photography: Current exhibition “Rising Above it” ongoing until January 29
Art District Beirut is pleased to announce the extension of the photo exhibition “Rising Above it” by Maher Attar until January 29, 2022. The show was extremely popular and well received amongst visitors. The extension will allow more people to take the time to discover it. It features Maher Attar’s black and white photography in the Lebanese mountains.
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