Maher Attar, Fine Art photographer and founder of Art District Gallery in Beirut, launches his project “Berytus.. A Glorified City” featuring Lebanese model and muse Lea Mehanna, and sending a strong message of hope and inspiration for Lebanon.
The photography project “Berytus.. A Glorified City” by Maher Attar was launched at Art District House of Photography on May 5, 2022. The long-awaited spectacle was well-received by the crowd of art enthusiasts on a late Spring afternoon in the heart of Beirut. The Gallery, Art District, a valued enterprise by Maher, had already exhibited a few solo shows and has gradually become a well-established hub for photography and photography-lovers in a short span of time. Seeing the exhibition “Berytus.. A Glorified City” finally realized after three years in the making was truly a momentous event, one that was not to be missed.
The project showcases Maher’s mastery of the Lomography technique, as well as his creative vision. The theme is reminiscent of early 19th century French paintings (Eugène Delacroix comes to mind) and the practice of personification; in other words, representing an idea or an ideal through the full-length figure of a woman. In Maher’s project, the choice of personifying Beirut, Berytus, the city that has fallen countless times and risen again, was embodied in the figure of Lebanese model and muse Lea Mehanna.
The project consists of 13 limited edition art pieces, “masterpieces” of fine art photography, as well as fine art and salt prints; it is a unique exhibition of its kind in Lebanon. The Lomography technique is best described in Maher’s own words:
“Lomography is a movement based on the concept of constructing new cameras, using silver print films – from old, cheap models from the ex-Soviet Bloc. When using this technique, I take the opposite approach to the perfection of digital photography. The images come out raw, poorly framed, out-of-focus, grainy and have a black circle in the corner.”
The aforementioned technique allows Maher to create images that appear historical, archival even.
The masterpiece “Independence”: The figure of Lea is carrying the Lebanese flag up high, with several male models in army clothes reaching towards her. The men represent the different political parties in Lebanon. “We see her in her glory, she is still standing high and trying to protect the flag,” Maher says about this piece. “Actually, none of them can touch her.”
This piece was shot in the Dbayyeh shoreline, on October 12th, 2019.
The masterpiece “Diversity”: In this piece, the figure of Lea is carrying Lebanon and reaching on a staircase. She is surrounded by four women; Palestinian, Armenian, Ukrainian and Uzbekistani. In the far corner, a man with a traditional ‘tarbouche’ is gazing at the women.
“I am trying to show the diversity of Lebanon, the diversity of Beirut, actually,” Maher shares. “Because Beirut, to me, has a big heart; she receives everybody and she accepts everybody.”
The piece was shot at Sursock’s Grand Palace in Sawfar.
I am trying to show the diversity of Lebanon, the diversity of Beirut, actually.Maher Attar, art photographer
The masterpiece “Dove of Peace”: Lea in this piece is releasing a dove, within the aged walls of Sursock’s Grand Palace in Sawfar. The piece is a testimony to Maher’s skill, his mastery of the light. The visible texture on the walls, the light beams and cast shadows on the floor, and the overall dramatic composition is evocative of Baroque paintings.
The figure of Lea, really Berytus, in addition to glorifying the city, is an homage to the Lebanese woman, Maher shares with me. “I truly respect the Lebanese woman,” Maher says, “because she is a fighter, a real fighter. Maybe she doesn’t have a gun to fight, but she fights every day and every moment.” The layers of symbolism in Maher’s work is one that can be appreciated from many perspectives. Maher also involved the work of Lebanese fashion designer Ziad Nakad, who created Lea’s white dress, with Roman and local references.
The effort truly becomes one of historical documentation.Maie El-Hage, art historian
From my conversation with Maher, I learned that he really scouts for locations that have a sense of history. Such architectural locations bear witness to the country’s historical trajectories through times of war and peace. The exhibition includes shots in Sursock’s Grand Palace in Sawfar, Beit Beirut, the L’Orient le Jour building (before it was demolished) and abandoned buildings in Dhour Shweir. The effort truly becomes one of historical documentation; not merely an art project, the exhibition belongs in our national and city archives.
“How do you choose between black and white images versus color images?” I ask the artist. The answer is: it is an aesthetic choice. “Black and white photography has its charm,” Maher shares with me. The nuance between the two is appreciated by art enthusiasts, and often overlooked by the general public. “Technically-speaking, [black and white photography] is much, much stronger,” the artist confirms. Personally, I appreciate the graininess of the black and white pieces and the imperfections of the Lomography prints. On the other hand, the colored pieces, carefully selected by Maher, have a richness of color and light. That is because Maher only prints on high-quality, archival paper of the best kind.
All that goes into the creative and technical processes of image-making, as I call it, can be overlooked in today’s fast-paced world, in which images are easily accessible. The problem with the ubiquity of photographs today, we discussed, is that the photo becomes consumable. The photograph is taken for granted. Fine Art Photography is really a practice of image-making. The effort that Maher is making, both with his art and with his gallery, is to return Fine Art Photography to the status of High Art that it deserves, specifically in Lebanon but also in the region. This effort has found fruition in the truly exceptional project “Berytus.. A Glorified City”.
Maher Attar is a well-established, internationally recognized photographer with much acclaim. His career started in war photography and reporting, before, more recently, dominating the fine art photography world. You can read more about his vision for his gallery, Art District House of Photography, in my previous article here.
“Berytus.. A Glorified City” will remain on display at Art District: House of Photography Gallery until August 6, 2022.
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