A journey through Lebanon, Syria and Iraq among the ruins of the past and the rubble of the present

admin April 7, 2022 28 Views
Updated 2022/04/07 at 10:58 AM
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A journey through Lebanon, Syria and Iraq among the ruins of the past and the rubble of the present
A journey through Lebanon, Syria and Iraq among the ruins of the past and the rubble of the present Listen to this article

In the early 21st century, French photographer Mathieu Pernot (Fréjus, France, 1970) received a gift from his father, an old album that brought together photographs taken by his grandfather in the Middle East in 1926. Set in Beirut, and as such in a good amateur photography, the ruins evoke a great charm in René Pernot, heightened by the exoticism vibe of the oriental culture of the time. He visited Lebanon and part of neighboring Syria. I will be traveling to Tripoli (Libya). Also to Homs and Latakia, and will visit the ruins of Kalat-al-Hosn, Baalbek and Palmyra. When the Syrian War broke out in 2011, that album began to acquire a new meaning for his grandson, who began to consider the possibility of embarking on the same journey and reaching Aleppo and Mosul, in Syria and Iraq. Two important enclaves devastated by wars. , respectively. He traveled among various ruins of history. In those thousand-year-old relics drawn by Grandfather, new ones were added, a reflection of the splendor of ancient cultures, synonymous with the failure of our civilization.

there came a book (Edited by Atelier EXB) and an exhibition at the Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris, titled Sa Demore’s ruin (the ruin of their abode), After the tragic events of these past few days, both take a new look. “When you look at pictures of Ukraine and know that Syria was Putin’s school, you can’t help but think that today’s Syria could be tomorrow’s Ukraine,” lamented the photographer during a telephone conversation. According to the UNHCR, Ukraine is already the third country with the most people forced to take asylum, after Venezuela and Syria.

After being awarded the 2019 HCB Award for Best Project Close to Documentary Photography, convened by the Cartier-Bresson Foundation, the photographer took a tour. The capital of Lebanon was his first stop. He was lucky, the house where his grandfather lived with his children for 18 years between 1940 and 1958 was available to rent through Airbnb. Almost a miracle, given the devastation caused by the war and real estate speculation to historic Beirut. In those half-naked rooms the echo of the hero of his family album still seemed to resonate. After that emotional experience, the author continued his path and would not return to the city until a year later. The horrific explosion of an ammonium nitrate deposit in the harbor leveled the city center days earlier. “The balcony railing of the family apartment was now in the street,” recalls the photographer. “They were used to block entry into the building.” In such a situation, a pile of rubble got buried in the rubble. After a 15-year long civil war, traces of which were evident in people and architecture, the towers of burnt ships and scrapped cars rose by chance like improvised sculptures. “I always felt more interested in the tragic history of the area than the history of the family,” says the author. “I began to see how that old photo album became universal, within the delicate history of Lebanon.”

Mosul, Iraq, 2019.
Mosul, Iraq, 2019.Matthew Pernot

Between these two visits to Beirut, the photographer takes us into a landscape of desolation, very different from the apparent visit his grandfather made nearly a century ago. A journey among the ruins covering a history span of more than 3,000 years. The authors will travel to Tripoli, where the dilapidated façades of buildings recount the harsh clashes between Sunnis and Alawites that took place between 2011 and 2014. “Theoretically, I decided to remove the human figure in my photos,” Pernot explains. “But seeing a man sleeping in the open, while pigeons stared at him, his head resting against a wall, where a hole pierced by a shell could be seen, taught me the importance of involving the inhabitants of those understood. blank space in the story.

The Greco-Roman ruins of Baalbek retain their glory in eastern Lebanon, where the Temple of Baalbek is one of the best preserved in the world, having survived the scourge of vandalism. This is not the case of Palmyra, Syria, a World Heritage Site dynamic by jihadists in 2015. But it is the scale of the new ruins that really captivates this story. More than half of Homs, Syria’s third largest city, has been destroyed by bombings by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian ally. “I do not look for aesthetic gestures in my photography”, emphasizes Pernot, “I consider myself a documentary photographer. The reality is so strong in those places that I always try to keep a certain distance from the subject. I run from artifice to show only what one sees. It can be very fantastic, sometimes it can even be said that it is beautiful, but he always sought a balance, presenting reality as it is presented.

Home, Syria.  2020.
Home, Syria. 2020.Matthew Pernot

“It would not be possible to show the magnitude of such a tragedy”, insists Pernot. Therefore, sometimes the author focuses on photographing portions of a scene, which he sometimes compares with others from the same, or a different, place in order to create a one-of-a-kind composition. University, in the same way that an archaeologist reconstructs a piece. “I am very interested in the reconstruction of spaces and the possibilities that photography offers,” says the author. The image of the Syrian dictator becomes almost ubiquitous amid the devastation. “this is madness. Each image is different, and the most paradoxical thing is that he is responsible for the scenario of this catastrophe. It is curious to compare the symbolism of Daesh with this additional representation of al-Assad’s face”.

Two men talk under a blue sky, in the old part of Mosul, in northern Iraq, overlooking the Tigris River, on the banks of which lies the cradle of our civilization. There is a pile of rubble beside it and on the border of the road and the debris has already almost turned to dust. One of the men tells the photographer that his house was there. Still in the ruins is the broken body of his wife. “When someone tells you this. You feel the magnitude of their agony and horrors”, said the author. “That’s why I wanted to include the series of pictures that the book ends with. Never forget that people lived in those buildings, some died, others had to flee. A picture will never be able to reflect the dimension of vandalism”.

,Sa Demore’s ruin, Matthew Pernot. Cartier-Bresson Foundation. Paris. until 19 June.

,Sa Demore’s ruin,, Matthew Pernot. Atelier EXB. 120 pages. 45 euros.

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