Despite some of the recent events that have happened in Beirut, my best friend convinced me to book some flights. I was pretty curious about the place, and decided to venture out to see what was what. To be honest, I was pretty naive about it, I didn't really know a lot about the culture or the people. Sometimes I feel its good to go in blind. This time I only really knew that once the city used to be called “the Paris of the Middle East.”
As a photographer you find yourself drawn towards random people, especially around the streets of a new city. In my opinion, its definitely the best way to explore and experience local life.
After walking around a few hours, through the chaotic built up streets, we started to get a sense of what the city was about. It was very clear that religion was all around us. Aside from the politically charged street art, we could hear the sounds of Muslim prayer bouncing around from the tops of buildings.
Beyond the hustle and bustle of the main streets, after walking into a more suburban environment, we started to discover these charming men hidden away in their workshops, painting on the streets, smoking a cigarette whilst drinking a glass of Lebanese wine. It quickly became apparent that the cliche of Beirut being known as the “Paris of the Middle East” wasn't so ridiculous.
As we walked into one man's dark studio, full of leather and fabric, he said with a smug face as he pointed to a covered car outside, “You know the Rolls Royce? Thats mine.” We kind of laughed it off and walked around the corner, where we saw the beautiful vintage '80s Buick Regal with a huge shiny grill parked on the street.
Nearby we stopped for a coffee in a little French cafe, where we found a guy painting a huge Basquiat-esque painting over a wooden board. I remember thinking he was wearing a dope vintage adidas track jacket. He spoke to us about some emerging artists in Beirut and across Lebanon.
One morning we decided to venture slightly outside of the city to a little fishing town called Byblos. Again we didn’t know much about it, apart from the fact that we had to go check out the bay and meet a guy called Pepe to eat some Lebanese fish dishes. We walked over to the highway and jumped into a minivan, which felt a little like we were being picked up by a school bus. It was a funny journey as we stopped every five minutes on the highway to pick different groups of passengers up.
We weren’t too sure if we were heading in the right direction, so we got dropped off on the side of the highway and were told “Head that way.” We walked down the street to discover a huge old bank next to the Mediterranean sea. The small fishing town was full of old ruins, making it feel peaceful and relaxing compared to the busy streets of Beirut.
Back in the city at night, Beirut completely came alive! It became this vibrant environment full of designers, stylists, photographers and chefs exchanging ideas, talking about collaborations, while sharing food and drinking dope cocktails.
For me the most exciting thing was that despite various conflicts that have happened in the city's past, Beirut still had a rich scene of forward thinking youth. It felt like something new was evolving, with young people trying to redefine traditional ways of thinking. I have to say, it's the best feeling when you go somewhere new, and are able to leave feeling like you could live there.