Publisher: Kaph Books
Publication date: 2017
Canvas rating: ****
“There is nothing more beautiful than to forget oneself,” writes Fouad Elkoury in Passing Time, a book that looks back at 50 years of the artist’s visual archive of Lebanon in 160 photos — explorations that capture the country’s mountains, cities, and remote villages in their postwar condition and rapid development. With texts by art historian Gregory Buchakjian and writer Manal Khader, the volume’ haunting and intimate photographs tell the story of Lebanon through its infrastructure and landscapes. Complementing these striking visuals are the artist’s own notes, which are honest, wistful, and introspective. One of the most interesting sections is his series on continuing real estate development projects in Beirut. Commissioned by the real estate developer Solider to photograph the revitalized downtown area in 2009, the architect-turned-photographer noted how old neighborhoods were demolished to make way for projects that attempted to replicate the spirit of times gone. “An experienced eye could see them as patently fake,” he writes. His use of multiple exposures and layered images reflects overlapping identities and interests of not.
Just the developers, but of a city that was trying to regain its soul. Elkoury, who co-founded the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation in 1997, is well-known for his contributions to the field of photography. He has a talent for making images look natural —as they had come across a scene by chance. Yet when you enter the picture, you see how carefully the elements have been chosen and composed: a 1995 photograph of Omar Daouk Street, for example, shows what appears to be an abandoned building surrounded by crumbling bricks, yet on a ledge is a clothesline with items drooping like branches. In other photographs, the damage of war comes front and center, like those taken on Tijara and Tripoli Streets in 1977. Despite chronicling the impact of conflict, his desolate and meditative photographs hardly qualify as reportage. Rather, driven by the Arabic phrase mourour al zaman (the passage of time), they point to a wandering, through traces of war, a human imprint on disfigured landscapes, the materiality of time, and its passing.