Beirut by Night

A Century of Nightlife Photography

in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication
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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.

Beirut by Night

A Century of Nightlife Photography

in Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication

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    Figure 1

    From the left: Wassila Naamani, Yvonne, wife of Aaref Naamani (dressed up as a man), Salwa Ghazzi Naamani (standing) and Wajiha Naamani Sawfar, Lebanon, 1925. Unidentified photographer. Collection AIF/ Hoda Naamani. © Arab Image Foundation.

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    Figures 2

    (a, b) Merry company and people dancing at a ball in the Saint Georges Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon, late 1930s. Photo Gulbenk. Private Collection. © Photo Gulbenk.

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    Figure 3

    ‘Gellab’ merchant and actor Gerard Avedissian with an unidentified woman outside Les Caves du Roy. Beirut, Lebanon, early 1970s. Unidentified photographer. © Les Libanais et La vie au Liban, vol. II, ed. Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, Dar Assayad, 1992.

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    Figure 4

    (a, b) Phoenicia Hotel Souvenir card. Cover and inside print: Annie Buchakjian, 1960s. Photo Issa Frères. Collection Annie and Sarkis Buchakjian. © Photo Issa Frères.

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    Figure 5

    Bal des Petits Lits Blancs. Guests entering on a red carpet lined with the guard of honor. Beiteddine, Lebanon, 1964. Unidentified photographer. © Les Libanais et La vie au Liban, vol. II, ed. Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, Dar Assayad, 1992.

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    Figure 6

    Bal des Petits Lits Blancs. From left to right: May Arida, Princess Mona el-Solh, Raimondo de Larrain, Geraldine Chaplin and vicomtesse Jacqueline de Ribes. Beiteddine, Lebanon, 1964. Unidentified photographer. © Les Libanais et La vie au Liban, vol. II, ed. Asma Freiha and Viviane Ghanem, Dar Assayad, 1992.

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    Figure 7

    At Serge Brounst’s House. Ghazir, Lebanon, 1984. Fouad Elkoury. © Fouad Elkoury.

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    Figure 8

    Acid bar, Beirut, Lebanon, 1999. Fouad Elkoury. © Fouad Elkoury.

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    Figure 9

    “With Strings Attached”. Color photograph Gilbert Hage. Beirut, Lebanon, 2006. © Gilbert Hage.

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    Figure 10

    “Behind the Bars,” from the Nighthawks series. Color photographs Gregory Buchakjian. Beirut, Lebanon, 2007. © Gregory Buchakjian.

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    Figure 11

    (a, b) Ad hoc studio shots, Ajram Beach. Color photographs Tarek Moukaddem. Beirut, Lebanon, 2009. © Tarek Moukaddem.

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    Figure 12

    Bal des Petits Lits Blancs. After-party at Sunrise inside the Temple of Baccus. Baalbeck, Lebanon, 1964. Unidentified Photographer, © La Revue du Liban, courtesy of Bibliothèque Orientale - Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut.

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