Profiling Photographers: Natalie Naccache

Pasted below is the introduction to "The Setté Project" by Natalie Naccache.

I will never forget the howls and screams which filled our London home one fateful day in April of 1996. My maternal grandmother was murdered by a man who had painted the family home in Beirut, Lebanon. It occurred whilst my grandfather was waiting downstairs under their apartment building for the electricity to come back on in order to use the elevator. When he killed her, he killed our family too. This event shaped who I am today. My family continued to live in the same apartment, and I would come back to visit them every summer. It has left me scared of empty homes, noises, creaks, and a vivid imagination.

Gulf Photo Plus
: I really have no idea where to start. What a truly extraordinary piece of work. How long have you been wanting to create this project? Why is now the right time?
Natalie NaccacheThank you so much for your kind words. It was a story I was always apprehensive to approach, I never had the guts to, but I knew at some point, I needed to confront it with my camera. I also worried how my family would feel, how it would affect them emotionally. I'm very close to my mother, we share everything. But asking her if she wouldn't mind me telling the story was difficult on so many levels, once she agreed, and said I should tell this story, and how it affected us, I began shoot straight away. I had been living in the same apartment she had been murdered in for five years, after I graduated university in London and moved to Beirut, two and a half of them were with my grandfather, and the rest was alone. This year marks 20 years since she had been taken away, and I felt it was my duty to tell this story.  

GPP: The Setté Project re-creates your grandmother's point of view. The video at the beginning seems to summarise her view of the street below, a later image seems to captures her view of the communal stairwell. Was this an attempt to get closer to her experience that day?
NNThe Setté Project re-created from what happened that day, and how the event rippled across our family, and the black void she left behind. The video of the street below was to show where we are, the viewpoint of where the family home was. With the spy hole looking to the hallway, my family told me that she never used to open the door to anyone she didn't know, she would ask who it was first, and look through to make sure who it was. Every time the doorbell rings, I do the same. 

: Some of the photographs and videos are particularly chilling, like the footage of the trip in the elevator and the architectural drawing of Setté's apartment, which seems to have been extracted from a crime investigation. Is there also an attempt to re-trace her murderer's steps?
NN: You're right, part of it was to re-trace the murderer's footsteps, although the project is about grief, and what she left behind, I wanted to give small glimpses that it was a cold crime. 

GPP: There are many contrasts— between cold haunting truths and warm precious memories. Could you expand on this observation?
NN: The cold haunting is what was left behind, the void when the warmth left our home. Because, she was the warmth at home, she was the pillar of our family that brought everyone together, full of celebration and precious memories. I wanted to show my audience what has been taken away, the warm memories shown are a glimpse of that.  

GPP: The photograph serves to document the traces left by your grandmother— her unmade bed, her chiffon scarf still resting in the drawer. It's very powerful. It has a silence to it, a stillness. These moments in the project are deeply affective. Even though she's not here physically, her presence is still very much still there. Is this project an ode to her?
NN: The chiffon scarf is what we wear to funerals. The silence is what  consumes me when I'm alone in the apartment. The project is an ode to her, to her memory, to her presence that twirls around the home sometimes.
GPP: A rollercoaster of emotions, The Setté Project picks up with encouraging words from your mother: "You have to survive that episode and help bring life back into the house which was cherished by her." The video capturing the innocence of childhood, as young girls sing and dance, is very special. How important is the interplay between text and image?
NN: Because there is such a stillness to the photographs, and they are not literal, I wanted to add my family's voices, to add different layers and dimensions to the project to make it more accessible to my audience, adding home videos makes it more relatable, to show what life was like for us at that time. My mother's and family experience was much stronger than mine too, I was only seven years old at the time, my mother and family lived through the horror of it all.  

GPP: It's revealed at the end of The Setté Project that you lived alone in the apartment for two years. How did that experience influence the work? 
NNGrowing up in the home for me was bizarre from the start, when I was younger I would wonder Why would you choose to continue living in a home where such a horrible event took place? When I moved to Beirut after university in London, living in that apartment, I would hear creaks and sounds in the middle of the night, and wonder if it was an intruder coming to hurt me where I would escape to? There was the smell of the home 20 years ago which was locked in her ornaments cupboard, every time I opened it I used to smell all our memories from when I was seven years old. Although the home changed a lot after 20 years, tiny details were still left. 

View full project here

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