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
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