Magnum Foundation Photographer Spotlight: Elsie Haddad and the Heritage Buildings of Beirut
In 2022, World Monuments Fund (WMF) and Magnum Foundation announced that they were partnering to support local photographers around the world in documenting the sites on the 2022 World Monuments Watch and the communities around them.
Elsie Haddad, one of this year’s 12 grantees, is a Beirut-based photographer who plans to combine mapping, photography, and soundscapes to create a multimedia portrait of the Heritage Buildings of Beirut, which were selected for the 2022 Watch following a devastating explosion in the Lebanese capital’s port that claimed hundreds of lives and dealt a major blow to the city’s historic center. We spoke to Elsie as part of a series of interviews with the Magnum grantees. This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
WMF: Could you talk a little bit about the project as you currently envision?
Elsie Haddad (EH): The project is not focused on one monument but the parts of the city of Beirut that were most affected by the explosion at the port, where you have heritage buildings—French architecture and Ottoman architecture and so on. My idea is a sort of a walk, if you like: I'm going to create a hand-drawn map and find the people, buildings, and stories [of the area]. I'll also be looking through personal archives to bridge the past and the present.
I'm more intuitive in my work—I might plan that I need to do these shoots on this day, but I don't know where I'm going when I set out. The hand-drawn map allows me to focus on the subjectivity. I want to include the houses of people that you don't usually get to meet or hear about on a daily basis.
WMF: You work with a group called Collective 1200. How has that influenced your practice?
EH: It started with the [October 2019] uprising: my friend called on photographers to start getting together and talking about how we can push our work forward. Being part of a collective, first of all, it's support. It's people who understand what you’re talking about, and you share and, and you listen, and you give. Here in this region, we lack spaces where we can connect as photographers and support each other.
WMF: Have you selected the buildings you will document already?
EH: Not yet. I'm still in the research phase, but I've done similar work before on a smaller scale. I worked on old shops in Beirut in 2010 that were on the way to disappearing because of the real estate boom. The social structure is changing because before 2010, we had a huge wave of property investment, and a lot of heritage buildings were demolished. They were not “official” heritage sites, but it's the face, the identity of Beirut. And this left a gap in neighborhoods. Before, people knew each other, you know, but bit by bit people have started being more distant.
I want to tackle the soft and harsh gentrification that the city has gone through due to these investments. Now it's a “softer” gentrification–houses are turned into pubs restaurants or a cultural space or a small B&B. The old Beirut is not gone, but it's changed, you know?
World Monuments Fund safeguards cultural heritage around the globe, ensuring our treasured places are preserved for present and future generations.
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