For this month’s Profiling Photographers interview, we sat down with graphic designer and photographer Roï Saade, based out of Beirut, Lebanon. His work is informed by his love of geometric shapes, patterns, grids, photography, Greek mythology, and black coffee. After years working with local and international design agencies, he now works independently in order to pursue personal creative projects.
Gulf Photo Plus: How long have you been taking photographs?
Roï Saade: I always snapped photos when I was a little kid - of the family or friends, you know - but I started to make or create photographs almost 5 years ago after I met other enthusiastic amateur photographers in the BSP (Beirut Street Photographers) community. There I met good friends who helped me learn much more about the medium and motivated me to photograph people in the streets.
GPP: What first attracted you to this medium of storytelling?
RS: First, “my voice”. I needed a platform to express my thoughts and ideas as I felt it was hard to do so in words. I was looking for something creative and purely artistic. I think I’ve always been a visual person, interested in the different ways of seeing shapes and light. Second, “the others”. I was born and raised in a small conservative community; photography helped widen my perspective and gave me access to places and communities I’m not familiar with. Photography satisfies my curiosity to discover a world full of mystery and wonders.
GPP: When did your passion for visual design and branding spill over into photography?
RS: During university years, an introduction course to photography sparked my interest and made me explore photography more. In my profession, images and typography go hand in hand; there’s no escape from studying images and working with them. Nevertheless, I was not very interested in the world of commercial photography. I wanted something more profound and mysterious, something genuine and emotional.
GPP: How does your background in design influence the way that you frame and execute photographs?
RS: Both of them influence each other. It’s one visual language, and it’s universal. Both can convey mood and evoke emotions, often using the same terminology: idea, content, composition, rhythm, balance, form, tone, color.
GPP: What (or who) has been the greatest source of inspiration in your photography so far?
RS: I had a quote by Harry Callahan as my cellphone background for a long period of time to motivate me, and it said: “To be a photographer, one must photograph. No amount of book learning, no checklist of seminars attended, can substitute for the simple act of making pictures.” To say, the only thing that matters is your persistence and dedication to practice and make images. Everything else comes naturally with time depending on what and why you’re shooting it.
No doubt everything I observe or contemplate affects and inspire the way I shoot. Films, paintings, music, books, advertising… I think when you are self-taught, you’re constantly looking around and learning from other photographers, famous or not. I have been lucky to meet and get to know closely inspiring photographers like Jason Eskenazi, Tanya Habjouka, Samer Mohdad, Tamara Abdul Hadi. Beside that, my favorite read is DogFood, a cynical and archival photography magazine I design and co-edit with a few colleagues. It’s full of knowledge and inspiration from around the globe and is free.
GPP: Your current project, The Epic of Dalieh, focuses on modern Beirut and Greek mythology. What inspired the start of this project, and how has mythology informed and shaped it?
RS: This project about Dalieh (near Raoucheh) started the day I discovered this magnificent natural outcrop by the sea. Unfortunately, it was also the same day I heard that this shared space is threatened to be privatized by real estate tycoons.
What started as a street photography project took a drastically different road when I found parallels to the story of Dalieh in an epic poem called Dionnysiaca, written by Nonnos in 5th century AD. In one chapter, the epic tells the story of a nymph called Beroë, representing the city of Beirut in Phoenicia, that was wooed by Dionysus and Poseidon and became the object of a brutal fight between them. Both gods unleashed their wrath regardless of the damage and destruction they brought down on nature, and this became a metaphor that shapes my story about Dalieh while I examine humans’ bizarre relationship and conflict with nature.
GPP: How do you edit/select images to create the overall narrative of the project?
RS: It’s a long, never-ending process. I print and place my selection on a board and try to find a way to look at it with fresh eyes every day. With time, I start pairing images to connect them together and create a sequence. Then I start all over again…
GPP: What is your vision for The Epic of Dalieh?
RS:The project is still ongoing, but I already exhibited a small selection per the request of activists working on the preservation of Dalieh. At the end of it, I wish to create a photobook or a zine. I don’t have hopes that The Epic of Dalieh will change anything in the lives of the viewers really. At its best, it can help to create a collective memory about a beautiful forgotten place and maybe raise more interest in the subject. That nature is vitally important in our lives, that we are part of nature, and to destroy it can only lead to our own destruction. Otherwise, I can only hope that people see it as an amusing poetic narrative.
GPP: What’s next?
RS: Next is finishing my project and publishing it. In the meantime, I’m exploring the possibility of new project. Design wise, I’m looking forward to collaborating with photographers and photo curators on design projects like photobooks, magazines, and exhibitions.
Learn more about Roï’s work.
Learn more about Roï’s co-publication, DogFood.