“Obsessions” by Philippe Aractingi: Timely reminders

Philippe Aractingi’s new exhibition of photographs and videos not only provides fascinating glimpses of Beirut past and present, but also highlights the depth of his feelings for the city

A new exhibition by Philippe Aractingi tracks the changing face of Beirut over the decades, while revealing the award-winning filmmaker and photographer’s deeply personal and obsessive, 30-year love affair with the city.

Titled ‘Obsessions’, the exhibition produced by Nadine Saddi Zaccour and curated by Marine Bougaran, opened last night at 3BEIRUT and runs until September 25. It features a series of photos that capture the spirit and soul of the city at moments in time, alongside an installation on the same theme, made up of three videos that run simultaneously.

In this, Aractingi takes the audience on a visual journey through Beirut’s recent history, inviting them to consider the fragility of “that which does not last”, while laying bare the range of emotions that the city and everything it has endured, stirs up inside him.

He notes: "I’ve photographed Beirut as a photographer would his lover, with passion bordering on obsession. Day or night, whether it is calm or cooking up a storm, its fragility and resilience, its soul and essence, its femininity, its effervescent nature and everything that it is makes Beirut my muse..."

War and ceasefire, destruction and reconstruction, beginnings and endings, loss and rediscovery, and love and fear are among the themes explored in this diverse range of works. The common thread is the temporary air that each piece exudes, from the digger at work, to the party girl making her way home, shoes in hand, and the densely populated, lit apartments, where everyday routines are under way.

The video triptych, meanwhile, highlights the changes that Beirut has witnessed by giving viewers the opportunity to compare specific locations at various points in time. Compiled following years of research and observations, each video relays footage and images from a point in Beirut’s history - the 1920s, the 1990s and the present. Aractingi chose the main line where East meets West, close to his childhood home and an area that was a flashpoint in the war years, as the primary spot for filming.

The depth of feeling that Aractingi has for his beloved Beirut shines through in this exhibition, even as he laments some aspects of its past and expresses his fears for its future. Nevertheless, his works also reaffirm the city’s hallmark resilience and character, in the face of challenges and change.

About Philippe Aractingi

Born in Beirut in 1964, Philippe Aractingi is a self-taught, French-Lebanese filmmaker, who discovered his passion for photography at the tender age of eight, when his father gifted him his first instant camera. Over the years, he has released more than 50 documentaries and four award-winning long feature-films, which have been distributed internationally. Photography remains an important part of Aractingi’s life, largely for the part it can play in demonstrating just how fragile and fleeting life really is. ‘Obsessions’ is his second photography exhibition, following on from ‘Night in Beirut’, which took place in Paris in 2010.