A Forum On Cultural Practices In The Region
April 2nd, 2002
Latency is the state of what exists in a non-apparent manner; but which can manlfest itself at any given moment. It is the time elapsed between the stimuli and the corresponding response.
The latent image 18 the invisible, yet-to-be-developed image on an impressed surface.The Idea is that of the ‘dormant’ slumber; slumbering – like something asleep, which might awake at any moment.
Latency has connotations with essence, but also with the idea of the repressed, the hldden, the untestable, of an invisible element. It is an obscure form, troubling because it cannot be delineated; it is not a defined territory, but a diffused state, uncontrollable, underground, as if lurking, as if all could resurface anew.
Latency is the introduction to the possible, to the state of becoming.
Latency also evokes what is often felt in Beirut, in face of the domlnant amnesia prevailing since the end of the war’, in face of this strange paralysis that pervades the clty, in face of this violent deslre to place things between parentheses – to censure oneself.
This latency of memory colncldes with an ambiguous relation to Images, as they have been presented since the end of the war.These images oscillate between two temporal registers: The mythified and nostalgic past of Beirut – the pre-war perlod with its Images and its sublimated postcards; and the future – as it is constituted in a supposedly collective fantasy that puts us back onto the track of the ‘rlght road of progress and modernity’, with its iconography projected in enormous billboards praising numerous real estate projects.
The image seems to navigate between a ‘this has been’ and ‘this will be’.The present manifests itself, at times, in a hysterical fashion, In a denial of the historicised inscription. Most often, when one approaches the subject of the war, a certain ‘cathartic’ presupposition – so as not to say a therapeutic program – accompanies it to overcome ‘this crisis’. The war is not simply a symptom, but it is also an ontology and process that cannot be reduced, a process that escapes, that represses itself and that denotes latency one more time. The war’s near past becomes this latent figure shrouded in the shadow of the city, ready to gush out from the shade; this memory so quickly strangled, the ruins lying under the modernist’s concrete, under the capitalist’s dream of an efficient and proficient country.
In our approach to photography, we first began to inscribe the traces and memories of war in our work, insisting on the ruin, but also on the inscription of these modern ruins In the city, on the modes of perceiving the city and its evolution, on the urban tissues and their mutations. We were also re-oriented towards a re-reading of our contemporary history and its representations, which shape us.
This exploration led us to work on borrowed images. This critical attempt often led us to impasses, to paralysis, to crises of
representation. But the act of maklng images became obstinate, pushing us to seek different ways of ‘saying’ in an alternative way through photography.
Latency is well illustrated In the works that we will discuss in this paper: Wonder Berrut which refers to the work of a photographer,
Abdallah Farah, a ‘documentary’ that we filmed on the Khlam detention centre and our research on an undeveloped 8mm film, which used to belong to Khalil’s uncle, who disappeared durng the war.
It is always an almost embarrassing bother to speak of one’s own work. However, thls IS a recurrent approach for many of us in Lebanon. In the absence of a critical and theoretical structure, we often find ourselves In the process of theorising our work, saying it, writing it. It is also difficult to reduce our work to a precise perspective – such as latency – however, it seemed interesting to attempt to do so wlthin this framework.
Abdallah Farah: Wonder Beirut, including various works: The Novel of a Pyromaniac Photographer and Latent Image.
Abdallah Farah is a photographer whose approach illustrates the difficulty of creating images during and after the war.Three periods can be distinguished through-out the course of his work. In 1964, Abdallah Farah was only sixteen years of age when he joined the photography studio of his father, a former assistant of Dalati and Nuhra. Studio Wahed was located in Bab ldriss in downtown Beirut. In 1968, Studio Wahed received an order from the Lebanese Tourism Agency for a series of twenty-four postcards on Beirut, as well as twelve illustratlons
to be used in the official calendar of 196g.The orders continue in the following years.
The photographs, shot over a period of six months for the postcards, attempt to reveal the most beautiful tourist sites in Beirut:The city centre, the bank district, the clnemas, the souks, the hotels, the beaches, the modern infrastructure, the urban monuments, the city’s most important avenues and so on. Some aerial views were also taken with the assistance of the Ministry of Tourism and the army.
The Idea behind the project, which was wholeheartedly supported by the prominent hotels, was to expose the city’s modernity, diversity and richness. The quality of this work was such that it was regularly reprinted (and imitated) We st111 find reproductions of these postcards on sale today In Beirut’s bookshops, even if some of the monuments they depict have disappeared. Abdallah Farah was certainly not the only one who produced postcards, but his work still remains among the most distinguished.
After the civil war broke out in the spring of 1975, besieged and Invaded by militiamen from different factions, Studio Wahed was destroyed and subsequently burnt to the ground Abdallah succeeded in rescuing some material – a fraction of his negatives including those of the postcards and hundreds of rolls of virgin films, unshot and unexposed For an unexplained reason. Farah kept quiet about embarking on a new venture Three years after the start of the war, and a few months after his father’s death, he began to damage his postcard negatives, burning them little by little – an intentional process of deterioration – as if seeking a way to have their states conform to his present He imitated
the destruction of buildings, which were progressively disappearing before his eyes, ravished by bombardment and street battles in doing so, he inflicted yet another form of destruction He spent his nights slowly burning his calendar and postcard cliches making them correspond to
his shattered realty.
Through a process, which integrates within it part hazard part accident, these ‘damaged’ Images appear like new photographs. Through the traces of fire and light, an indexical rapport IS recreated. By the time Abdallah finished burning all these images, the official peace ending the war was pro- claimed in Lebanon. During the war, often confined to the house or to the bomb shelter, Abdallah Farah seldom went out (as he himself says, he has nothing of the adventurer or the war reporter). During these long years, he mostly photographed the people closest to him, his neighbours and neighboring places. He used the un-shot rolls of film salvaged from his studio; but, short on products,
fixatives and, most of all, paper; he was not able to develop his images. The photographed films began to pile up, waiting for a better day, for a moment when the shelling would stop and Abdallah would be able to go out. Since, – and despite the end of the war – he maintains this habit. He doesn’t develop his Images anymore. It suffices just to shoot them. The reels accumulate, without him feeling a need to reveal them. He nonetheless precisely documents each photograph he takes In a small notebook, describing it thoroughly.They are there to be read,
leaving an Immense space for the imagination. He entitles this work the ‘invisible Image’ or the ‘Image in the text’. For us, a little
obsessed, we see It as a latent Image. One of our friends, Pierre Menard, admires the work of Abdallah Farah. He talks of “a subterranean body of work, endlessly heroic, unequaled and, certainly, perpetually unaccomplished, a sublime attempt to capture each passing minute, fleeting time, running time”.’ We imagine recovering Abdallah’s photographic archives and deciphering his many note- – books, for the purpose
of our 2 Hadjithomas. Joana; joreige. Khall, Ok 171 Show You My Work making a catalogue raisonne of his Beirut: A1 Adoob. Publication – invisible work.
On the left, we see images of two of the many drawers he uses to store his films.The first contains films shot from Sunday, November znd, 1997, to Saturday, February 21″, 1998; the second from Wednesday, November 4’h. 1998, to Sunday April iiCh, 1999. Also depicted are the textual descriptions of films that Abdallah Farah continues to call ‘contact sheets’. We have taken the liberty of translating the descriptions and simply typing them out on a computer (Abdallah’s handwriting is very hard to read). Please note that, of course, this is not a facsimile (an image of the image), as resorting to the image of these latent images would be problematic. A fundamental question remains that I will evoke only here:That of the conditions of apparition, or rather; the revelation of these images. At what moment, and to what purpose, would Abdallah Farah choose to develop his films – to subject his images to light? What would have had to change around him, in him, beyond him? In his book, Distracted, jalal Toufic writes that the fact that Abdallah Farah describes his photographs, in a notebook, “can be considered a contribution to the resurrection of what has been withdrawn by the surpassing disaster. The intended effect of the work of the one trying to resurrect tradition past a surpassing disaster is fundamentally not on the audience, except indirectly; it is on the work of art to resurrect it”.) If we were to witness this change in Abdallah Farah’s work, as well as in other artists whose work may evolve In a similar perspective, presupposes, in itself, the acceptance of being revealed and the risk of loss. These latencies we have presented, as well as others, point out possible gestures, traces, some reminiscences, which become ghostly and haunt the photographs, the films, the documents, whether true or false. This is a story about return, of the undead, the revenant, of
something resembling the capacity of remembrance that makes us human. By remaining haunted, we do not succumb to cynicism in the acceptance of images and of realities in a continuous present. Being haunted is refusing the mechanical state, the machine; it is time that refuses to efface itself It is something that resists. Being here, today, is accepting to live with our ghosts, to long for them, to feed them. It is reminiscent of an image, of a knowledge that inhabits us, a knowledge dificult to pin down.This seizure, this gesture, we find important – whether in its failure or in its quest to incarnate as images. This gesture forces us to think and to produce our images outside of a flux, to constantly interrogate their necessity, existence and implications in the world that we live in, in the video or photographic practice we use. Latency appears also as the possibility to exist outside hegemonic and monopolising networks (taking the form of censures and exclusions), which sanction alternatives, going so far as to annihilate them.This is also one of the conditions for the ‘other’ not to consider that it is possible to exhaust us with hazardous appreciation, a diagnosis of us, of our manifestations (especially in artistic work). All our work is rooted on the frontier of a real; where the questions of the self, of the social body and of the individual body in a communitarian society pose themselves; where it is dificult to pose oneself as an individual, to say “I”, to say “I am here, even more than an individual, I am a singular subject”. Latency is this ‘being-there7, although you don’t see me; it is the necessity beyond the evidence.