American Univesity of Beirut

Manoug’s Magic Lantern: Views onto Lebanon


“Manoug’s Magic Lantern – Views onto Lebanon” photographic exhibition

  • Place: AUB, West Hall, Malhas Common Room

  • Exhibit: Monday, April 4 – Wednesday, April 6, 9 am-8 pm

  • Opening Event: Monday, April 4, 2016, at 6 p.m.
    (please refer to think link for event details)


In this exhibit, AUB Libraries showcase 90 photos from its recently acquired collection of the work of Manoug Alemian (1918 – 1994). The exhibit offers a rich and varied sampling from Manoug’s oeuvre, ranging across dates (the 1940s – 1990s), subjects (portraits, landscapes, festivals, crafts, etc.) and media (silver gelatin, color prints, negatives, and transparencies).

It is no exaggeration to state that Manoug’s photographic oeuvre, much like a magic lantern, transports the viewer into a realm from which an iconic image of pre-war Lebanon, one that influenced an entire generation, sprang. Using his keen photographic eye and a distinctive “artistic-documentary” style, Manoug offered a seamless combination of mimesis and metaphor: the landscapes, archeological sites, crafts, portraits, and visual juxtapositions that constitute Manoug’s photographic art helped construct and reinforce a way of seeing the Lebanese nation that came to pervade the psyche not just of the Lebanese, but of a wider audience of Arab and international viewers.

Manoug’s photography is a blend of faithful documentation and high artistry: it functions on the one hand as mimesis, a depiction of Lebanon’s beauty and specificity, and on the other, as metaphor, an affirmation and construction of that specificity: Manoug’s oeuvre carefully selects local elements and weaves them, through a highly skilled photographic artistic technique, into an iconic discourse of the Lebanese nation.

Hundreds of photos in Manoug’s oeuvre meticulously reproduce and document the nation’s lush nature, its stunning coastal cities and powerful mountainous landscapes, its unique archeological sites, and its deeply rooted history. At the same time, Manoug’s artistry highlights specific aspects of Lebanon, incorporating them as elements of a visual style that would eventually define a peculiar Lebanese “locality” and mode of life. His lens captures, reinforces, and puts on display Lebanon’s spiritual (read Biblical) and deep (read Roman and Phoenician) roots, history and legacy; its modernization (read Westernization) that brings about urban centers that are put on par with exemplary modern urbanities (Lebanon as “the Switzerland of the Middle East,” as a “bridge between East and West,” Beirut as the “Paris of the Middle East”); and its traditional village customs, local crafts and ways of life (peasants, farmers, shepherds, etc.). With fine skill, Manoug plays out light against shadow, and through a highly skilled and refined photographic technique both of image capture and of image development (photos were often framed and reframed by Manoug while being developed, with a view towards achieving a maximum expressive effect) Manoug distills the fine pure lines and the “spirit” inherent in any landscape, portrait or scene. The result is a highly expressive artistic “outdoors” photography (in opposition to the more familiar form of artistic studio photography where it is much easier to control light and shadow): Manoug, by hunting and capturing light at the right moment, manages to distill the interplay of light and darkness with extreme sensitivity, and to imbue his black and white photographs with highly crafted emotional meaning and resonance.

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