We are happy to present the third solo show of Lebanese artist AKRAM ZAATARI at our Beirut space. After Earth of Endless Secrets (2009) and This Day @ Ten (2013), Sfeir-Semler Gallery presents The Third Window, which capitalizes to a large extent on Zaatari’s study of photographs and their histories, mainly in the framework of his involvement with the Arab Image Foundation.

The Third Window is a term that Zaatari borrows from Paul Virilio, who uses it in reference to television broadcast, a frame that allows a glimpse into a parallel life, referring to screens that can transport the viewer across space and time. But in the context of this exhibition, Zaatari uses the term to designate the different transactions that reproduce photographic records and that leave traces on the bodies of photographs, which Zaatari tries to understand as part of their genealogies.

Zaatari takes photographs of photographs and narrates them in diverse ways. Sometimes they are organized into films, like On Photography Dispossession and Times of Struggle, 2017, commenting on their histories, focusing on how fragile they become at times of war. Sometimes they are reorganized in the gallery space highlighting specific details in them, disregarding the main subjects in pictures, the main purpose(s) of taking the picture(s), to reveal something else that would have otherwise stayed invisible. In original photographs he looks for accidents, records of unintended happenings, like the shadow of the photographer falling in the scene in the series A Photographer’s Shadow, 2017, or like a disintegrating image in Archeology, 2017. He makes of these the center of his work.

Since the late nineties, Zaatari based an entire body of work on collecting and studying photographs; he has explored how they are made, whom they serve and how they circulate. He has examined the photograph as a site for diffusing fashion, culture, codes of behavior and sometimes values. This exhibition marks a move to another level while studying photographs. Zaatari looks at something else that was not intended in a photograph, and maybe something that happened to it after it was taken. He looks for what remains after something vanishes, what settles down after contamination has taken place, or what gets reconfigured by accidental binding. He tries to learn from these accidents or phenomena and deploys them as tools into the making of what he calls “informed objects,” or objects that can speak of what they have been through.

Zaatari has often evoked Archeology, metaphorically, while talking about his search for photographic documents, uncovering or excavating, and displacing artifacts away from their original uses to study them. In this exhibition he relies on methods used in Archeology, such as 3D scanning, to record the textured surfaces of deteriorating photographic negatives, as in the series Against Photography, 2017. There are multiple media used in this exhibition, which does not include any original material. From traditional techniques like Cyanotypes, traditional print making and painting, to inkjet printing on paper or glass and video; all merge into making a single photographic journey.

The Third Window offers in the beginning a broad reading of the history of photography, through its basic material, moving away from image content in order to uncover what’s buried within banalities, and that which nevertheless testifies to a century of unsettlement and violence.


The Third Window, 2018, Exhibition Views



History, 2018, Installation view

History retraces Zaatari’s pursuit of damaged, erased, withdrawn or scrapped off photographic descriptions from the nineties until the present day. The earliest is a self-portrait he made in 1993, and the most recent are part of Photographic Phenomena, 2018 series.


On Photography, Dispossession and Times of Struggle, 2017, Installation view

In this second volume of his reflection, Zaatari focusses on photography and loss, while he continues to evoke the research he carried out in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon in the late nineties, shortly after the Arab Image Foundation was established.

The film explores the relationship between photographs and war, and the risk of photographs vanishing. The main characters discuss wartime and comment on photographs from the mid-twentieth century. With the multiplicity of screens and media deployed for this film, photographs, super 8 film, iPads and iPhones, stacking frame upon frame and image upon image, an abstract, complex, but also insightful network of long-forgotten struggles suddenly takes shape.


Book of All Collections, 2017

Zaatari produced the Book of All Collections, which documents all the collections that entered the Arab Image Foundation (AIF). The book includes narrative descriptions of collections, contents, and the stories of their acquisitions. It is an insightful register that acts like a guidebook to the AIF collection.


The Third Window, 2017

When Nahla Haidous died in an air raid led by the Israeli air force against a UNIFIL base in Qana in 1996, her most recent ID picture was about fifteen years old. It was taken at times when she didn’t wear a head scarf.

The Third Window refers to three photographic transactions that involved Nahla’s portrait. The first reproduced her facial features for an ID card somewhere in the early eighties. Upon her tragic death, this portrait was framed and placed on her grave with flowers covering her hair. The second transaction reproduced that frame with plastic flowers on it for the purpose of publishing it in a special supplement of As Safir daily, conceived by the journalist Doha Shams. That second reproduction was framed by Haidous’ family and handed to Shams after she had asked for a duplicate to include in an exhibition at the Rencontres Internationales de la photographies in Arles in 1997, curated by Samer Mohdad. The third transaction reproduced the framed reproduction of Nahla’s initial portrait on a 4 x 5 inch transparency, upon its reception in Arles. The Third Window is based on this last reproduction.


The Secret Witness. PRH247, 2018

This painting is based on a still frame from the live transmission of witness PRH247’s testimony in the hearings related to the killing of former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri in the Hague in 2014. The pixilation is due to the use of a real time video anonymizer which is used to hide the identity of the witness. What comes across is a color palette that reflects the colors and the light temperatures present on the scene, and the position of the witness in the frame.


A Photographer’s Shadow, 2017

Shadows are effects caused by light. They are like binding agents, in the sense that they tie distinct elements one to another.

At a time when it was uncommon to own a camera for private use, one of the recurring patterns that appears in family photographs across the world is the shadow of the photographer falling on his subjects. Camera users, told to keep the sun behind them while taking pictures for better results, were often unaware that their silhouette overshadowed the scene they were trying to capture. In this series Zaatari re-photographed the shadows of photographers that appear in negatives and prints, shifting the viewer’s attention away from the scene, focusing on areas of the pictures where the photographer merges with the photographed, or what could have been an early form of shadow selfie.


An Extraordinary Event, 2017

In the spring of 1887, Osman Hamdi Bey took these eight photographs at Boustan al Maghara in Ayyaa’, Saida. The location and most of the people who appeared in the pictures had probably never been photographed prior to this date. What prompted these photographs was the excavation of 19 sarcophagi from the Phoenician period, most of which were displayed temporarily in this garden before they left to Constantinople, where they remain until this day. These 8 photographs represent the only record of these finds prior to their departure.


    Un-Dividing History, 2017

These cyanotypes merge two bodies of work from a collection which is no longer in the Arab Image Foundation’s custody, and which consisted of glass plates of Khalil Raad, a photographer from Jerusalem, and those of Yacov Ben Dov, a Zionist filmmaker and photographer of Ukrainian descent. Raad and Ben Dov shared the same city, Jerusalem, but belonged to completely different universes. Zaatari conceived this series as a statement against partitioning history. As the glass plates were stored against each other for over 50 years in the same position, each plate was contaminated by the plate it was leaning against. The cyanotypes depict traces of a world impressed onto another and speak of the ineluctable shared history of Palestine and Israel, safeguarded by a passionate collector.


Against Photography, 2017

For Zaatari, a photograph is not simply a description; it is an object made of matter, with surfaces that react to their environment and can become a record of it. This series represent a trip across time and media. The set of 12 engravings were made from digitally routed plates that reproduced a 3D scan of various gelatin negatives that have reacted to environmental conditions, and developed different forms of channeling and abrasions. While resorting to an image-blind scanner that records only relief, Zaatari disengages photography from descriptive, narrative and aesthetic traditions and reconnects it to plastic arts. Each sign of wear contributes to the object’s history, which is independent from the image it represents. The outcome is an abstract and delicate landscape of erosion that has its own story to tell.


  Iraqi Ruins, 2017

The photographic archive of Iraqi architect Rifaat Chadirji and his father Kamil was evacuated from Baghdad and deposited with the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut in 2012, as part of an agreement with the Foundation to digitize and document the collection of over 80,000 negatives and prints. The consultation of this visually rich collection required flipping through original binders that housed thousands of contact sheets and prints held together in plastic sleeves and folders. When the Foundation failed to raise the necessary funds for digitization, Chadirji withdrew his collection and donated it to the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT in November 2016.

These six empty binders represent the affective traces of a short passage of this collection at the Arab Image Foundation.


On Photography, People and Modern Times, 2010

This work tells the stories of photographic records that Akram Zaatari researched and collected for the Arab Image Foundation in its early years (1998–2000). It is a meditation on the two lives of photographs, once in the hands of the people who cherished them and in an environment that secures their preservation. Cutting across temporal and geographic borders, the film probes the nature of humans’ relationships with photographs and highlights the limits of standard preservation.


Sculpting With Time, 2017

Negatives bound to cellulose may react to change in temperature and humidity. Their versatile nature, compared to negatives bound to glass, makes them curl causing the emulsion displacement. These are extreme close-ups on two negative sheets that have morphed over time and developed air bubbles and channeling. The first represents the same detail photographed in three different light setups to capture the 3D quality of the object and to differentiate the bubbles from the image on the gelatin. The second represents close-ups of the subjects on the same negative, in this case a portrait of two ladies.


The Body Of Film, 2017

In May 1948 photographer Antranick Bakerdjian photographed his own destroyed home in the Armenian district of Jerusalem. Until then, he would regularly take photos of friends during outdoors excursions, religious ceremonies, and others. After May 1948 his negatives reflect a dramatic turn: he started documenting the fortification of the Armenian convent of St. James, where many families took refuge, and found himself at the center of an unfolding war for the following years.

Zaatari studied Bakerdjian’s negatives and decided to present the body of film itself as a testimony of war, focusing on erosion and on the different film brands on the edge of negatives, including Safety Film, Nitrate and Panchromatic. This is a story of war told through the deterioration of photographic emulsion. Most of the films presented here were produced at a time when the photographer was deprived of his darkroom, and was constantly moving from home to home.


Faces to Faces, 2017

What appear to be double exposures are photographic close-ups of glass plates that represent portraits made by Tripoli-based photographer Antranick Anouchian in the early 1940s. These plates, found by collector Mohsen Yammine, were stuck to one another.

Zaatari selected the pairs of negatives with glass plates representing French soldiers paired with others showing individuals, random citizens from Tripoli. These photographs depict the faces of French military men in uniforms, seen through the portraits of the community they governed at the time.


Archeology, 2017

The work Archeology evokes, at once, the excitement and disappointment of an archeologist upon the excavation of an artifact, which misses crucial parts. It is based on a glass plate found in Tripoli by a photography collector named Mohsen Yammine in a flooded studio. The original glass plate represents the portrait of an athlete photographed by Tripoli-based Antranick Anouchian (1908 - 1991). Zaatari applied layers of dirt; metal and broken glass transforming it into an unearthed artifact. The object has been enlarged to match Zaatari’s excitement at his first encounter with the plate while looking through Yammine’s collection in 1998.