A year after the Beirut explosion, a myriad of feelings and emotions have taken over all those who call Lebanon home. As each one expresses them in their own way, Lebanese photographer and visual artist Tarek Moukaddem has chosen to serve as a channel for the stories of the survivors of the blast that claimed more than 200 lives and injured thousands.
Ahead of the tragedy’s one-year mark, Moukaddem embarked on a five-day photo shoot, calling upon his neighbors, coworkers, and friends directly affected by the blast to display their lacerations as a reminder of the 7,000 people wounded. “Many of my ‘models’ are still being operated on until today. A lot of the city’s population is still struggling with PTSD and still grieving the loss of loved ones. The physical scars are only a small proof of that. Today, one year later, the investigation into the blast has barely started, and no one has yet been held accountable. I wanted people to remember that this is not done yet and that many are still struggling and have been marked forever both physically and mentally,” he tells Vogue Arabia.
“With the Covid-19 lockdown, and most of us were dislocated from our homes, and I hadn’t seen them since the blast. Many of them lost most of what they had, and couldn’t afford to rebuild as their money was stuck in the bank because of the economic situation in Lebanon. What surprised me the most, however, was their strength and will to go on. One of the models simply told me, ‘What else do I have to lose?'” he shares.
Calling upon people to show a vulnerable side of their bodies can unlock discomfort and emotions of all kinds, which need to be dealt with gently. To overcome this, Moukaddem tried to connect with his subjects, and establish a sense of mutual trust and respect. “I wanted to show them that their bodies are still beautiful no matter what and that their scars were only a medal of honor from our daily fights that they should wear proudly,” he says. Above all, he wanted to convey each survivor’s story by empowering them. “Right after the explosion, I saw a lot of documentation work about the victims and their wounds. Many of them were shot with pity, and that is exactly what I wanted to avoid. I really wanted to showcase in these photos how beautiful and strong these people were even after everything that happened. I wanted to show their pride,” Moukaddem explains.
The artist, who raised funds for the explosion’s victims last year with an auction, said that he wants to avoid exhibiting these photos. “I really want the series to be about the people of the city, and not about me. For me, the purpose of the series was a political act, and I want it to stay that way.”
Like many other artists in the country, Moukaddem’s creativity has been deeply affected by the blast. “I used to always build a lot of limits to my work. After the blast, I started filtering myself much less. After surviving such a situation, you learn not to care about the small things anymore, and you fear people’s opinions a lot less,” he said, adding, “At my low points, I can barely get out of bed and consider never producing, but once I’m up, I have a flame to tell my story and the stories of the people around me.” In his observation, Lebanon’s creative scene has also changed significantly in the past year. “Many of my fellow artists have left the country. Resources are becoming more scarce. Many of us learned to stand more together as a united front, and a lot of our work has become more political. Personally, I’m still absorbing everything that happened, while fighting for survival and change,” he says.