Gulf Photo Plus presents the new exhibition “When Time Does Not Exist” featuring photographic work by Stephane Lagoutte and Randa Mirza. Nowhere is Beirut’s paradoxical nature seen more starkly than in its relationship to time. Beirut is a city where the past and the present entwine in unpredictable and unexpected ways, where the past with its memories and lingering scars of war burst through the ends of the city’s evolving contemporary identity. Aspirations of the city’s future break through the walls of modern life with equal force, manifesting in rapid urban development. Indeed, with its juxtaposition of abandoned structures and gleaming new buildings, its thriving public spaces and silent hidden corners, Beirut becomes a living monument of what has been and what is yet to come.
Just as the city unites disparate elements into one cohesive whole, the exhibition “When Time Does Not Exist” unites two seemingly disparate photographic series about Beirut by two distinct photographers: Stephane Lagoutte (based between Beirut and Paris) and Randa Mirza (based between Beirut and Marseille). Both photographers take the present-day city as a departure point for a symbolic travel in time – backward and forward – creating images in search of the city that has been forgotten and the city that has yet to be created.
The series “Beirut 75-15” by Stephane Lagoutte is the result of three years’ work. The photographs of present-day Beirut were taken during Lagoutte’s numerous visits to the city, while he was wandering its streets. Lagoutte marries these contemporary images with a series of archival photographs he uncovered amidst the rubble of a crumbling luxury hotel in the city center. By creating superimpositions of these carefree pre-war photographs with current images of the dilapidated hotel, Lagoutte entangles the past and the present, creating a physical representation of their entanglement in the minds and shared memories of the Lebanese people.
By contrast, Randa Mirza, in her ongoing series “Beirutopia”, looks into the imagined future of the city. Her series showcases Beirut’s striving to regain a long-gone glamour and revive the old myth of a city commonly referred to as the “Paris of the Middle East”. This quenchless aspiration is manifested in the city’s frenetic construction. Mirza captures images of the large billboards that have erupted all throughout Beirut, sprawling displays advertising new construction projects. Each billboard is photographed in its real environment, creating a projection of what is to come against the stark reality of what currently is. In Mirza’s words, the project is “a portrait of Beirut’s urban future” that “aims to raise questions about the devenir, or the becoming, of Beirut and its associated representations”.