Since mid-October, people have been taking to the streets in Lebanon to partake in "Thawra", a non-sectarian protest action in response to a looming economic crisis. By October 19th, 2 million people (1/3rd of the population) were demonstrating, triggered by popular disapproval of proposed government taxes on gasoline, tobacco, and VoIP calling services such as WhatsApp.
The images and videos coming out of 'Thawra' are striking, and at the end of this article, we've highlighted a number of photographers sharing incredible scenes from the ground.
Myriam Boulos is one of these photographers, and Raz Hansrod from GPP asked her a number of questions, adding context to the images she has been sharing @myriamboulos.
Hello, Myriam! First of all: how are you, with all that’s been going on?
I feel tired, confused, and somehow new! I was born right after the end of the war in Lebanon. I was raised in a country where not having our basic and fundamental rights was normalized. I feel like we are ending an abusive relationship with the system, and we can finally say: No, this was not normal.
I understand it’s an incredibly complex topic, but: give our audience a summary, from your perspective, of the current situation in Lebanon.
I take my camera to the protest with me every day to try and feel things through my images, since it is almost impossible for me to put words on the situation. But one thing is for sure: A revolution is happening in Lebanon.
Your images of the revolution are bright, vibrant⏤some almost cheerful. What is your intention with this styling?
I don't have any intention. When i shoot I don't have pre-constructed images in mind. My pictures are like a collage of everything that is happening in me and the life happening outside of me. And taking pictures is most importantly my way of participating to the revolution.
I usually use the direct flash to put the light on things that are hidden by society. Also I use the direct flash in this situation because i need things to be present, to feel real, like a proof that all of this is actually happening. And there is this proximity between all the social classes that is very striking to me. It is the first time that we all share and own(!) public spaces like this. Body to body. Skin to skin. For me all of this proximity expresses a lot about the situation.
What role does imagery play in the revolution?
I think that imagery has a huge part in the revolution. Democratization of the image as well. In that sense social media is playing a major role in the revolution. It is another way of connecting us (and deviding us too of course).
What is your opinion of the usual tone of imagery coming out of the revolution? Do you stand in contrast to it?
There are so many images of the revolution. I personnally think it is important to have different points of view. Different feels of what is happening. Because things are not black or white, they are much more complex. And i think that this collective movement is constituted of individualities. And what we need the most and this point is to listen to and to respect the many different persons that make this revolution.
How do the protestors respond to the camera? How do the government officials/police?
I know that the police have been aggressive with photographers.
But personally after the first day I started asking for everyone's consent (protestors/government officials/police) so i don't really know if I can answer to that question. My pictures can be transgressive but my approach isn't really.
I haven't tried taking for example the police hurting protestors. Instead I took the traces of this violence on a protestor's face, a few days after he was beaten by the police. What I am trying to say is that I don't tell my stories through literal actions. I express things through feelings, in a more visual than illustrative and informative way.
Tell me about Dead End, and what else you’ve been working on outside of the revolution?
Dead end! Dead end is a place i found myself in, before the revolution, in Lebanon and in my body:
I found myself stuck between the system and a very complex relationship with my body. For me this series was a cry for help.
I've been working on another project called Tenderness: "skin, textures, traces of society and capitalism on our bodies, inside our intimacies and all over our experience of love. In a city based on self destruction, I am looking for tenderness."
I think it is very obvious that all of my series are linked, and that is why my images of the revolution are linked too: photography is my way of coping with things.
Where do you see things going next?
I have no idea where things are going next, but I think this revolution is a turning point in all of our lives. On a collective and a personal level.
For me the most important thing is that we are finally moving instead of sinking.
Here is a text I wrote the week before the revolution:
The more I talk to people in Lebanon
The more I feel like things are here to stay
Each one of us is standing still
Holding very tightly to our beliefs
And our anger
And our desperation
We get agitated in our places
We keep everything in
Or share it with the person next to us
The person we are supposed to give love to
But with whom we get stuck with these feelings of impossibility
Feelings of frustration
Because no one is here to listen to us
Because this is how the country raised us
This is what the state wants
A fragmented country
A weak and fragmented country
Powereless people filled with anxiety
Puppets who think that each one of them is better than the other.
Everyone wanting to shout and to be heard and talk before the other person opens his mouth and hunk louder than the other person and drive faster and have more money and more pride and more fake pride and more fake muscles and more theatrality and more masks
But inside I naïvely think we all want the same things:
To be seen.
To be heard.
To be loved.
And I think that the revolution starts with listening to each other.
Outside of our little bubbles.
Since i became an adult
Frustrated like all adults
I came out of my timidity to be heared too.
To talk when I have to.
Not to be a victim when I am one.
But the more I talk to people the more I want to shut up.
The more I want to stand still.
And take the time to listen to people.
Instead of being agitated in our little bubble of desperation pride and anger.
Drowning in tears, waiting for a miracle.
Thank you, Myriam, for your time.
To see more of Myriam's work, follow her Instagram here: @myriamboulos
Or visit her website: http://myriamboulos.com
Here are other photographers on the ground in Beirut, sharing images:
Tamara Abdul Hadi
Here's a great episode of The Lebanese Politics Podcast, to catch-up on the current events.