To Build and to Destroy: Josef Koudelka’s The Wall / Beirut at Dar El-Nimer, Beirut
Veteran Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka’s camera connects two places, two times, and two tragedies. The first one takes place in Israel and Palestine, and is symbolised by the construction of the wall separating them …
The second tragedy is the 1975 Lebanese war, through a series of pictures of Beirut that struck a very personal chord. The year was 1991, and I was in Beirut for the first time. I had not grown up in the war, nor had I experienced Beirut’s prewar so-called glory days. To me, Beirut was not as much a city as it was a destination, a place, which we were promised we would go to someday.
This is downtown, I was told. It was strange, dirty and disconcerting. I wouldn’t dare ask, and no one volunteered to tell me, what it was like before, or why it looked that way — that, I understood, on the intuitive level of a young child. (The post-war collective amnesia was already in full force.) I wanted to know about the people who lived in the ruins, and how and why trees grew amongst them. I wanted to know how exactly buildings got their holes, what made them crumble, and why no one had rebuilt them yet. I wanted to be lied to, told that all the buildings’ users and inhabitants were in fact safe, having escaped before the destruction.
Koudelka's pictures are photographs of my memories. Of course, I never got as close as him to the heart of downtown, being only allowed to behold it from the window of a beaten-up car. Actually, I’m not even sure it was downtown they showed me. But I remember these pictures of a landscape of despair. They are memories of gaping wounds, but also, paradoxically, memories of postwar hope and opportunities.
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Images © Josef Koudelka.
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