I think it was Albert Camus who said that to know a town you must know how the people love, how they work, and how they die. As I find my visual way into Beirut, I’m not yet sure how the people of this city love, but I suspect it’s fiercely. How do they work? For some, their days are marked by long hours laboring at a craft they’ve been doing for years; for others – particularly the millennial generation – they seek work in alternative ways, both ingeniously and practically. There’s always a few artists in the bunch, doggedly determined to carve out a life doing what they love, however difficult or precarious. As for how they die, if history is our guide, there’s a legacy of violent death in Beirut. And the trauma of such a legacy has a tendency to leap through generations.
Yet, to situate a people into our prescriptive formulations of place and meaning is to muddle the ideological space where people form and perform their identities. The only thing I’m sure of is that people here like everywhere else in the world want the chance to choose their lives. In the end, trying to find the splashes of color and shape that fragment the visceral energy of Beirut are as helpful to me as Camus’ prescription.