by Sakhi SobtiSep 03, 2023
Tamara Saade’s photographic series Tiers of Trauma is being exhibited at Visa Pour L’Image 2022 in Perpignan, France, in an international festival of photojournalism. The ongoing series presents a documentation of years of instability in Lebanon, starting with the October 17 Revolution in 2019, the explosion in Beirut in 2020, and its impact and aftermath in the succeeding years, with significant protests foregrounding the present continuous day. In conversation with STIR, Saade speaks about the development of her practice as a photographer and journalist, along with the everyday response to the domestic crisis in the country that is indicative of large-scale economic, financial and political failures.
Born and raised in Lebanon, Saade began photographing as a teenager, soon to realise that it was inevitable that she would take up photography as a medium, describing the camera as an ‘extension’ of her hand. She currently resides between Beirut and New York where she pursued her Masters. With a background in journalism, through photography and writing, Saade has worked with national and international house outlets, media houses and organisations such as Al Jazeera, Magnum Foundation, and the UN. Besides pursuing photography through the journalistic and editorial, she locates her personal practice as something that is always in conversation with her ‘professional’ practice. Often there is a blurring of boundaries in this regard, which the photographer explains is due in part to the way that photojournalism is evolving, where there is less distinction between the two ‘categories’. Saade’s writing also follows a similar route, going hand in hand with her photography. In conversation, she makes a note of the fact that she finds herself driven by emotions, seemingly antithetical to the profession of journalism, but goes on to say that we are all, after all, subjective.
Speaking of her interest in street photography and the urban landscapes that she has been able to witness and document, Saade tells STIR, “Looking for the same thing in Switzerland and Beirut is wrong. The environment affects its people, its character so much. The environment affects my pictures and the way I interpret the city so much. Beirut is a city full of character, it’s a very heavy city. It carries a lot of burdens, let’s say. I definitely hope to reflect that in my pictures. Whereas, when I am in New York, there’s a rush and a pinch of craziness that I try to reflect [in my photographs]. Then there’s Paris, for example. Whether we want it or not, Paris is a very romantic city. So, the whole architecture, the way it’s been constructed, makes it open to more historic narratives, or softer narratives, that I wouldn’t be able to produce elsewhere.”
In conversation about the public imagination around particular cities, Saade speaks about the global media representation of Lebanon, as a conflicted state with a war-torn capital city, where nightlife goes on, despite there being no power and so on. Steering away from a certain spectacular display, the artist’s own representation of her city is documentary in nature, where there is the ordinary, everyday gesture, alongside events that have unfolded as tragedies that its people continue to face. The everyday also becomes a point of conflict, where the routine lack of resources, and economic and political stability translates to power cuts, water supply shortages, and a financial crisis.
Through the title of the series, Tiers of Trauma, Saade speaks to the layered effect of trauma, referring in conversation to the almost absurd notion of hierarchising one’s traumas in order to start dealing with a larger sense of loss. Multiple images in the series capture the Lebanese flag being raised and draped by citizens in protest. A man stands defiantly, holding the flag, atop the Martyr’s Monument in one photograph. Another photograph holds the flag in passing as it is engulfed in smoke. Destruction of city and personal property in light of the explosion is captured, alongside moments of compassion and human response, speaking across multiple emotional registers.
Speaking to the nature of her photographic practice, Saade says, “As a photographer who doesn’t always start with a topic or certain theme in mind, it came very naturally to me to document what Lebanon is going through - with the start of the protests in 2019, the explosion that happened in 2020, the subsequent protests, the economic and financial crisis that is still ongoing. It’s a reflex for me to document it, but it’s also my way of coping with all those traumas. I found myself looking at a spread of all the pictures, in shock at how much this country and its people have gone through. We have reached a point where we don’t know which trauma to heal or deal with.”
In conversation, the artist speaks about the way the gaze is also shifting in the international photo community, where the position of the ‘subject’ in relation to the photographer is being questioned and re-evaluated, speaking to the ethics of journalistic and photographic practice. Saade says, “I didn’t really want to see pictures of Lebanon coming from these typically parachuted white journalists. I really want Lebanon to be depicted by a Lebanese photographer, someone who’s been here their entire life. It’s very important to me to put that narrative out there. [...] What we are going through is happening and it’s important not to forget about it.”
‘Tiers of trauma’ is on display at Visa pour l'image in Perpignan, France, until September 11, 2022.