BEIRUT: Beirut Street Photographers is an open community whose main objective is to act as a platform where fledgling photographers can network, share their work and participate in activities that will nurture their common passion and knowledge.
Formed by Loryne Atoui in November 2010, BSP’s activities are administered by photographers Mher Krikorian, Rita Kamel, Soha, Menassa, Imad Haddad and Nareg Derboghossian. Atoui discussed BSP with The Daily Star.
Q: What is street photography?
A: Everyone has a definition, but I would say it’s the candid life on the streets, unstaged. It’s capturing reality in [the] most natural way possible but also telling us the story behind it. There is a story behind that is attached to each photograph.
Street photography [also] has an archival aspect. If you look back on the photographs, [they] really contribute to the history of [a given] time. It is something we are also trying to work on. They are Beirut’s archives that we will appreciate later. Street photography is a very honest [art]. It is something that has a value of its own.
Q: What are your views on the way that Lebanon has been depicted – by foreigners and Lebanese, historically and nowadays – in photography? Is your organization trying to represent it differently? If so, how?
A: Like any country, there are general stereotypes and topics that tend to be focused on more than others in photography (as well as in the media, in general). In Lebanon ... because of our war-torn history, the majority of photographs up until a few years ago were intended to cover and document these conflicts.
They were more photojournalistic in style. On the other end of the spectrum, we also have the very touristic photographs that are shared with foreigners and in guides that tend to be more glossy and commercial. Each paints a different extreme of what the country is really like.
With BSP, we are certainly trying to change the overall perception of Lebanon for both locals and foreigners. Though [most] of us in the community are Lebanese, we come to continually discover and appreciate the day-to-day that makes Lebanon so unique through street photography. This genre of photography reveals the authentic side of the country, that helps others identify more closely to the culture and the people themselves.
One of the ways we’re trying to change this perception is by actually being out there and taking the photographs. Then, by sharing the photographs online through our website, Facebook page and other platforms, others have a chance to see them too and learn more about Lebanon.
Foreigners often join us as well during our outings and trips, which allows them to experience the country in a different way and take back photographs that reflect the street life of Lebanon.
Q: How was BSP founded?
A: BSP started as a workshop. I was [one] of the organizers. I noticed a great interest in street photography, so throughout the workshop I created a group and I wanted this to be for the community, by the community. I also asked people to get involved with me as [administrators], and keep the spirit of community throughout.
There is no age limit [for BSP members]. The youngest ... is 17 years old. The oldest ... are in their late 50s. They come with their small cameras. They love the spirit [of BSP].
Its purpose is to build the art of street photography, to bring us together into this art, to educate them through workshops and panel discussions. It’s to enrich this kind of art in Lebanon. Street photography is something people relate to.
Q: What sort of cameras do you use? Are there people in the group who insist on 35mm [and other formats of] film, or are you all pragmatic and working with digital formats? Is there a difference these days between the best quality digital formats and film?
A: We have a constant joking competition between which camera brands each one of uses and which is better. The majority are using either Canon or Nikon DSLRs simply because it is more practical, easier to work with and you can take an unlimited number of shots.
A few of our members use and experiment with film, myself included, but not exclusively. As you can imagine, film is more of a challenge and costly to develop. Digital photography offers great results, especially if you learn how to use your camera to its best capacity.
At the end of the day, which camera you use is really subjective and a matter of personal choice. It really comes down to training your eye when it comes to street photography. Any type of camera can be used for street photography. That’s the beauty of it!
Q: The collective’s educational activities include field trips around the country and panel discussions?
A: [The next field trip] we’re doing is Beirut ... different areas – Burj Hammoud, Souk al-Ahad [aka Jisr al-Wati], Raouche, Beirut Souks. Usually we [take day trips] around Lebanon, like to Tripoli and Sidon ... Once a month we do a trip outside [Beirut].
At the beginning of this year we launched the “Zoom-In” panels ... We ask the community on Facebook if there is something they want to learn about ... [Up to now, the BSP has held two such panel discussions].
The first one, in January, was on Copyright. [The second, on July 11, was an “A to Z” on exhibiting your photographs.] We will do one more this year. We also need time to organize, with the speakers etc. ... But each time it will be something specific to photography. We get the benefits from experts, to bring their own knowledge about photography.
Q:The BSP’s main means of outreach is through the Internet. Each week the collective selects a theme-driven “Street Photo of the Week” contest, to which foreign and Lebanese photographers are welcome to contribute. The best photo is posted online.
A: We have a list [of themes that] we usually come up with ... ourselves. For the SPOW, [we choose] a theme that is open enough [to allow] people to be creative ... The SPOW has to be something that is artistically interesting. It encourages people to get their names out there, on our website. We have a lot of talented community members.
Q: Has the group physically exhibited its work?
A: A few months ago Nareg Derboghossian had his work exhibited at Burj Hammoud’s Badguer gallery ... Our first official [group] exhibition opened last November in Mar Mikhael’s restaurant Tawleh.
We are planning [another show] soon. We are taking everything into consideration. We don’t do anything just out of the blue. We need to have a concept that is different from what you already see, and we want the exhibition to reflect what we do as well.
Check out BSP’s website: beirutstreetphotography.com or follow them on Facebook: facebook.com/beirutstreetphotographers.