The focus of my photography is the Middle East, on women and children especially. Lebanon in particular is interesting because of its key location as a gate to the Middle East, between the West and the Arab world. I grew up and lived in both Lebanon and the U.S. I am a Lebanese insider who speaks the language, knows the country, and understands its people, but also an outsider who can see Lebanon and its complexities through Western eyes, who can still be intrigued by the dichotomies that are shocking to the Westerner, but unnoticed by the locals.
The images are from four interrelated bodies of work: The Aftermath of War, a photographic essay of life in Lebanon after the numerous wars the country has gone through; The Veil: Modesty, Fashion, Devotion or Statement, studying the relatively recent spread of the veil and its meanings among Muslim women in Lebanon; The Forgotten People, portraying life in the decaying Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon; and a few images from a more recent project The Forgotten Christians, portraying a very devout Christian life in the Middle East. I also included a couple of images from this past summer from my trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank.
These images are not meant to represent all facets of Lebanon as a country, or to be political, but they focus on the universality of being human no matter what the circumstances are, of being a mother, a father, a child, or a young woman no matter what background or religion one belongs to. Girls have friends, bond, and giggle behind their black veils; mothers nurse and nurture their children in refugee camps; toddlers bring a smile to their mothers’ faces regardless of surrounding circumstances.
Throughout my work in Lebanon, I was welcomed into people’s homes and lives, and I was humbled by people’s resilience and hospitality. Religion and political affiliations did not matter. In these photos I concentrated on people who did not lose their humanity and dignity despite what they have been and are still going through. I tried to portray them as the beautiful individuals they are, instead of as part of any religious or political group. I concentrated on the spirit with which they continue with the mundane tasks of daily life no matter what their circumstances: their lives that are ordinary in a surrounding and a political climate that are often anything but ordinary.
Rania Matar, Boston 2009
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The Book: Ordinary Lives