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Monday, 30 April 2018

The Arab Image Foundation: Dinner is Served!


all images the Arab Image Foundation

Here's a short interview with Charbel Saad for the Activating the Archive symposium in Bristol on
May 5th

Charbel Saad works for the Arab Image Foundation, an organisation  that works with some brilliant archives from North Africa and the Middle East, archives that include beauty, humour, and bemusement in equal measure. Get a taste of the work they do here.

What has led to your involvement with archival material?

Growing up in Beirut, amidst the demolitions and reconstructions that followed the Lebanese Civil War, I didn’t have many clues of my Lebanese and Arab identities, especially that education of Lebanese history in local schools concludes, even until today, with the country’s independence in 1943. 

When I came across the collections of the Arab Image Foundation, I was fascinated with the subjects, locations and everyday lifestyles portrayed in the photographs, which offered a wider perspective and a more familiar narrative than the images I grew up with. Joining the Arab Image Foundation in 2013 offered me a first hand experience with these intimate photographs from my region’s past, and an opportunity to contribute to the institution’s mission in digitisation, using the skills I acquired throughout my undergraduate studies in graphic design.


Stereoscopic autochrome, 13 x 6 cm
Aziz Zabbal

How does the Arab Image Foundation activate, and present, the material it collects?


The Arab Image Foundation has presented its work to the public over the past 20 years through exhibitions, publications, videos and public events, in partnership with international museums, galleries, cultural institutions and schools. These productions were not conventionally curated or edited endeavours, but rather artist-driven initiatives that build on the research projects being carried out by members of the AIF. Since 2015, the AIF has taken on a more focused mission of digitising its photographic collections, covering over 600,000 items in various formats, in preparation for the launch of its new online database in September 2018, to be accompanied by the re-opening of its public space in Beirut.

Beirut's old Airport Road in 1975
Photo Naltchayan
Jean-Pierre and Yasmina Zahar collection

In a post-digital world, what role do physical archives play?


Over the past years, our archivists put a tremendous amount of work in cleaning, numbering and storing our collections in conditions appropriate to their physical state. Without their contributions in organising the archive, digitisation cannot possibly be a sustainable activity. We believe that the physical collections will always remain the primary source of information. Our objective therefore, through digitisation, is to capture as many layers of information from the original material as we can, a process that is heavily dependent on the imaging guidelines we defined for ourselves, and the equipment we use, whether it was a flatbed scanners or camera reproduction stands. For even though we strive on producing long-lasting digital images, we understand that they are not here to replace the original material, but to facilitate its access and use.


Laure Skeels at the AV store in Beirut that
she ran with her husband Frank


Briefly, what can we expect from your talk?


For those who are not already familiar with our work, my talk will shed light on the unique nature of the Arab Image Foundation as an institution, explaining the involvement of artists and scholars in constructing the collections and studying them through their personal practices and narratives. I will take the chance to highlight a few subjects within the collections, among whom amateur, professional and anonymous photographers, as well as families and collectors who entrusted us with their photographs. I will also give an inside look into our work today, and the various efforts we are taking in the digitisation of our photographic collections.

Charbel Saad will be talking about all this and much more on Saturday 5th May at the Arnolfini in Bristol in this brilliant symposium on the archive with speakers including  Maja Daniels, Charbel Saad, Thomas Sauvin, Kensuke Koike, and Amak Mahmoodian.
It's a serious bargain at £25 for the day and takes place in the wonderful waterfront location of the Arnolfini, with fantastic food, drink and cake all available within a few minutes walk.

Buy your tickets for ICVL's Activating the Archive here.

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