Beirut by Night

A Century of Nightlife Photography

In: Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
Gregory Buchakjian University of Balamand, Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, Lebanon

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Over the past century, Beirut has acquired a reputation as the nightlife destination of choice in the region. Photography was and remains a privileged witness of the proverbial ‘Beirut nights’. In this essay I trace the history of the genre of nightlife photography in Beirut over the past century, from the grand ball era of the Mandate period to informal underground nightlife during the civil war and its aftermath; to the rise of the nightlife image-making industry in the 1990s and 2000s. I pay particular attention to the ways in which technological developments interplayed with historical and social contingencies in Lebanon—such as the Lebanese civil war and the disintegration of barriers between private and public spheres in the age of social media. Recast as art, digital nightlife photography is responsible for the erosion of ‘vulgarity’ as a social category under the twin pressures of neoliberalism and technological development; it also plays a major role in the contemporary branding of Beirut on a global scale.

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