BEIRUT: If you ever dreamed of going to Italy but weren’t able to do so, “Momenti Italiani” may serve your travel cravings. Organized by Solidere and the Italian Cultural Institute, this exhibition gathers 108 photographs by Lebanese artist and pedagogue Bassam Lahoud, no relation to this journalist.
Lahoud traveled about Italy with his camera from 1975 to 2005. Venezia, Firenze, Rome, Toscana and Tivoli were among the many cities he selected for locations, his goal being to give a complete take on the country.
Marriages, busy streets and tourist sites such as the Tower of Pisa, the Trevi Fountain and the Piazza San Marco form the mixed palette of subjects Lahoud has chosen to record and display. This photo series seeks to evoke insights into different aspects of Italian society, its evolution and heritage.
That is pretty much it. Naturally it is interesting to capture glimpses of Italy and the subtle changes that have affected it over these three decades. Some viewers, however, may detect a lack of character in these works. The anonymous individuals and spaces that are Lahoud’s subjects are not rendered in a manner that opens the door to varied readings on the part of the onlooker. Photos that lack this allusiveness can leave you with the impression that such images can be found anywhere.
Lahoud’s objective is not new. Many photographers have set out to depict the residents of a foreign city or country. In the middle of last century, French pioneer Robert Doisneau took photography to another lever with his renderings of Paris life – the most iconic of which is perhaps his 1950 shot entitled “The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville.”
The same can be said of U.S. artist and photographer Man Ray, who achieved fame with both his naturalistic shots of Paris from 1920-34 and such surrealist productions as “Ingres’s Violin.”
Lahoud’s photographs are a sort of autobiographical guide of his Italy.
Yet something is missing. Striking moments perfectly framed, surprising reflections that take some moments to decipher – images that imbue the onlooker with the desire to focus and scrutinize the works is absent. In some cases, these works are reminiscent of tourist photos.
Nor is the exhibition particularly well served by the managers of the host space. The dimmed lighting may be atmospheric, but it does not embellish the work.
The large number of the works selected for exhibition leaves onlookers with the impression that organizers preferred quantity over quality.
Moreover, the exhibition betrays little in the way of creative thinking. On one panel onlookers find pictures of Firenze in 1992, Perugia in 1983, Rome in 1983 and Bressanone in 1975. In a show of works taken over three decades, a viewer might expect an aspect of chronology, or at least some explanation of why the artist or gallerist decided to spur such expectations. As it is, individual works have a messy, deracinated quality.
When this journalist visited The Venue, not a soul – not so much as a security guard – was present to offer help or information to patrons. With no one there to notice, an unprincipled visitor might be tempted to make off with a photo or two. The Venue itself was in need of a cleaning – the tables sticky with some unidentified substance, as though the space hadn’t been seen to since the opening night. The duties involved in hosting an exhibition do not end with the opening.
Lahoud is a well-known figure on the Beirut scene, noted as an architect and urban designer as well as an educator and photographer. Such status tends to derive from talent. Unfortunately there is little in the design and execution of this exhibition to show that talent to best advantage. Bassam Lahoud’s “Momenti Italiani” is now on show at Beirut Souks’ The Venue until Oct. 11. For more information, please call 01-749-801/2.