The house of many images

In the coastal town of Am­chit, pho­tog­ra­pher Bas­sam La­houd’s Le­banese House of Photography doc­u­ments the countr y’s in­ti­mate nar­ra­tives by pho­to­graph, in a house that re­veals the ages of his­tor y

Lebanon Traveler - - INDOORS -

When Bas­sam La­houd’s un­cle Nazih handed him his Le­ica III 1939 cam­era, com­plete with an un­de­vel­oped Ko­dachrome film, La­houd’s first ques­tion was, “why did you never bother to de­velop the pho­tos?” Aged 95, his un­cle’s an­swer was charm­ingly sim­ple. They were, he ex­plained, of his girl­friend and as “she was in front of me, why did I need the pic­ture?” La­houd, a pho­tog­ra­pher, LAU lec­turer and one-mans-how be­hind the on­go­ing project that is the Le­banese House of Photography, laughs as he re­counts the tale. It’s the lit­tle de­tails, the stor ies be­hind the cam­eras and the pho­tos that br ing them mean­ing, he says. La­houd’s photography mu­seum in Am­chit has been a mas­sive per­sonal un­der tak­ing. The idea be­gan in 1998, sparked by a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween La­houd and Henr i Chapier, the then pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean House of Photography. “The first thing I thought of is the pro­tec­tion of pho­to­graphic her itage,” he says. “For peo­ple a photo is noth­ing, but for me photography is his­tor y.” He wanted to cre­ate a foun­da­tion that would en­cour­age both Le­banese pho­tog­ra­phers and Le­banese photography. Flash-for ward and his ar­chives con­tain over 150,000 neg­a­tives and slides with a dig­i­tal ar­chive, he says, num­ber ing in the mil­lions. The La­houd res­i­dence, where the photography mu­seum re­sides, has at times played host to ex­hi­bi­tions and con­cer ts, and houses his col­lec­tion of equip­ment, cam­eras and pho­to­graphs cur­rently stored for safety as he nav­i­gates a hu­mid­ity prob­lem. The Min­istr y of Cul­ture clas­si­fied

the build­ing in the early ‘90s and walk­ing through the caves you are greeted by stages of his­tor y. The en­trance­way, he says, dates back to the 3rd Cen­tur y. “[There is] a bolt hole in­side the rock, where the first Chr is­tians used to hide [from the Ro­mans],” he ex­plains. “The church [across the street] was built on the ru­ins of the Ro­man tem­ple.” Turn the cor­ner and you have the re­main­ing struc­ture of a sy­n­a­gogue, where the rab­bis of a Jewish set­tle­ment, that came in 760 and lived in Am­chit for 200 years, were bur ied. Through the hall into the main cham­ber is the sta­ble area of the Ha­madiyeh Shi­ite fam­ily, built in the 15th Cen­tur y. His own fam­ily’s roots trace back to 970, when the church was first built, and fol­low­ing a war be­tween the Ha­madiyehs and Pr ince Yusef Che­bab in 1730-1760, the La­houds gained pos­ses­sion of the res­i­dence and the sur­round­ing 2,000m2. “This is why it is one of the most in­ter­est­ing houses in Le­banon … [it] has dif fer­ent civ­i­liza­tions, dif fer­ent per iods of con­struc­tion.” The mu­seum is also intr in­si­cally linked to its sur­round­ings. While he works on dig­i­tiz­ing his ar­chive to make it avail­able to the public, La­houd has put to­gether a book from his own pho­tos and those col­lected from his neigh­bors. Un­der the work­ing ti­tle “100 years of Am­chit: 1860 – 1960” he hopes the book will be re­leased later this year. “Of the fa­ther and the son,” was the ti­tle of one of the mu­seum’s pre­vi­ous ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tur ing pho­tos taken by La­houd’s fa­ther in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, and then by him­self in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the same cam­era. “Peo­ple like to see the past. ‘This is me’ – [said one 85-year-old Am­chit res­i­dent who came to the ex­hi­bi­tion] – ‘this was me when I was 12,’ ‘oh I know, this was my grand­fa­ther’ … it’s par t of show­ing peo­ple their his­tor y,” says La­houd. Look­ing to the fu­ture, La­houd hopes to con­tinue host­ing ex­hi­bi­tions and con­cer ts while he works on set­ting up the per­ma­nent space. The mu­seum has be­come mul­ti­fac­eted; first to dis­play the pho­to­graphic equip­ment he has, sec­ond to dis­play the pho­tos re­lated to the house, and, fi­nally, as an ar­chi­tec­tural space, to visit in its own r ight.

This is why it is one of the most in­ter­est­ing houses in Le­banon

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