Alongside the many men, women and children taking photos at the protests over the past week, several Lebanese photographers who don’t define themselves as photojournalists have been approaching the demonstrations with their own distinctive style and posting their images on Instagram.
One standout has been Myriam Boulos (@myriamboulos). The soft-spoken young photographer has taken striking images of Beirut’s nightlife, and over the past week has applied her unique vision of the world to the protests.
Boulos was spotted in action near Martyrs’ Square last Friday, flash mounted atop her camera.
“The month before the protests, I was feeling deeply linked to and affected by the situation in Lebanon, and I was feeling extremely powerless,” she told The Daily Star via WhatsApp Tuesday afternoon. “So when it all started, there wasn’t even a question, I took my camera directly and went on the ground to see and feel and try to understand and be part of things in my own way.”
In one image, a lean, muscular man with chiseled features is seen shirtless, a gold rosary with the cross missing on his neck and a thin black band on his left arm. He may be touching his groin area with his left hand. Behind him to one side, flames rage from an improvised roadblock; on the right, a man zips away on a scooter.
In another image, that wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary fashion shoot, two shirtless men in jeans smash the windows of a Downtown building.
“Fetishizing is part of my photographic practice. I fetishize everything and everyone, even myself. I don’t belong to anything so I search for myself in everyone and everything. I use reality, people, faces, to express the things that are happening in me that I can’t articulate with words,” Boulos said, adding, “These pictures are consciously subjective.”
Working among the protests took Boulos out of her comfort zone. “I have never been a news reporter,” she said. “I always work in slow documentation so it is different in this sense. I don’t have the time and distance to process things, so it is more spontaneous and dangerous because I don’t really have the time to think about what I am showing. I am mainly reacting and I am conscious about the fact that some of my choices might not be the best. But again I am not a news reporter.”
Just hours after Boulos made these comments, she found herself in the middle of a storm after TIME published a selection of her images accompanying an article about the demonstrations. It provoked a wave of social media opposition, with many Instagram users expressing anger at how TIME’s choice of photos and captions had portrayed the events.
“Time you are really failing us!!” user @celinebteiche wrote. “Come on can’t you just [use] a picture of us united as CHRISTIANS AND MUSLIMS AND DRUZE?!”
“Shame on you!! Out of all the positive pictures that came out from this revolution you choose this??” user @chelseasalame wrote. “The Lebanese are standing hand in hand against the corruption and against the bad economical situation in the most beautiful and peaceful way! Think before you share.”
The Daily Star asked TIME to comment on why Boulos’ photos were chosen for its spread on the Beirut demos. “The protest images by Lebanese photographer Myriam Boulos, who was born in Beirut, are at once intense and intimate,” a TIME spokesperson wrote. “Her images of the largely peaceful mass demonstrations stand out as a fresh and revealing look at those who are out in the streets, speaking their truths to power.”
Artist Maria Kassab (@mariakassab_art) also brings a distinctive style to her Instagram pictures of the protests.
Several of her images feature fireworks and recall her “Of Dreams and Terror” photo-collage work that uses glitter. That series is about Lebanon’s Civil War “its horrors and unfulfilled dreams,” her website says. While the protest fireworks are set off with revolutionary intent, their location and the protests themselves speak directly to the failed aspirations expressed in her other work.
In another protest image, Kassab has captured buildings and trees between Beirut’s Riad al-Solh Square and Martyrs’ Square reflected in glass like a mirror. But in the bottom third of the frame, the glass has been smashed, shattering outward in circles.
Kassab often uses torn, burned or destroyed photos in her works, addressing war, trauma and annihilation. This protest photo certainly seems to capture a version of that same sentiment.
“Most of my work is affected by the political climate in Lebanon,” she told The Daily Star Tuesday, via WhatsApp. “The deconstructing of images draws a parallel to the deconstruction of a system, of a state, a kind of vandalism.”
Asked if she was thinking about developing her protest images into a series, she said the work was spontaneous. “I have been part of and recording many demonstrations, this is not the first time,” she added.
“They might be part of a series, but now I am more focused on the documentation of the revolution and being part of it.”
Lebanese-French-Canadian photographer Vladimir Antaki (@artisticagitators) often displays his photos on Instagram split across multiple frames so they appear as a large, single image pieced together.
He has used this to considerable effect with several protest images – a burning street scene, a woman in Martyrs’ Square with the Lebanese flag over her face and the martyrs’ statue visible in the background.
“Shooting the protests wasn’t something I planned. It happened naturally,” he told The Daily Star Tuesday via email. “I started on Friday night with the riots downtown but it felt too sensational, not the message I wanted to send to the world. I only published one picture from that night and moved on. It felt wrong to me to focus on what was expected from a demonstration in an Arab country (destruction, riots, tires burning, etc). I decided to return the next day, and get a different perspective. When I arrived I was struck by how numerous the women and kids/teens from all social/religious background were. They were taking a peaceful and joyful stand against corruption. They were not afraid to show that enough was enough.”
“It felt like no other demonstrations I’ve been to. It turned very quickly into a huge party, Lebanese style, I wanted to capture that too,” he added. “It’s unreal, funny and beautiful at the same time.”
Antaki grew up in France and moved to Canada in 2003 and says he is now mostly based between Paris and Beirut. He was supposed to hold the launch of his book “The Guardians” Thursday but it has been postponed until further notice.
“It might sound cliche, but being in Lebanon during this historic moment has reconnected me with my motherland,” Antaki reflected.
“I’ve always been very critical of the fact that the people here only cared to party and are completely disconnected from reality. This is the first time that I understand how much partying is cathartic.”