© Courtesy Foundation Arabe pour l'Image (FAI)

Acting as a Cowboy 1970
Silver gelatin print
© Courtesy Foundation Arabe pour l'Image (FAI)

Hashem El Madani
Mediterranean: A Season of Exhibitions on Views of the Mediterranean

Between August and November The Photographers' Gallery will present a season ofexhibitions exploring the abiding cultural relevance of the Mediterranean. It is the meeting place of continents of Europe, Africa and Asia, with the sea allowing movement of peopleand ideas to take place. From Algiers to Athens, Barcelona to Beirut, Tangiers to Tel Aviv, this season opens up a conversation between contemporary and historical photographydiscussing the evolving definition of this contested area.

The second part of the Mediterranean season continues with a presentation of the work ofthe South Lebanonese photographer Hashem El Madani (b. 1930). Working mainly as a studio photographer in the town of Saida, which is located equidistant between Beirut and the border with Israel, Madani has been taking pictures of the residents the town for the last fifty years.

This exhibition is the first solo presentation of Madani's work outside of his home country of Lebanon, and the first time any of his photographs have been shown in the UK.

Madani's studio was established in 1953 and he estimates that he has photographed approximately ninety percent of the population of Saida. In creating such an extensiverecord of the townspeople in this multicultural Mediterranean location, Madani's archive of over 75,000 images subtly allude to the changing political climate through his subjects.The Photographers' Gallery will present over eighty images that survey the studio sessions and offer insight to the variety of subjects, poses and themes which in turnreflect and offer a unique insight into the political and societal shifts that have taken place during latter half of the twentieth-century in this area of the Middle East.

Madani's studio work centred on photographing individuals and groups who would pay for their picture, often ordering retouched or enlargements of the photographs. These clients were people who did not posses cameras but wanted to be photographed. Madani set up his first studio in his parents' living room and remained there until 1948 when hewas able to rent a modern space in the first floor of the prestigious Chehrazade building, which he uses till this day. A side from traditional portraits, Madani's studio also became known as a place where individuals could act out identities from advertisements, popular culture and portrait photography. These poses were often inspired by the desires of the sitters, who themselves were inspired by the a variety of influences such as Vogue Models, Kung Fu moves, Hollywood romances, pamphlets distributed by Kodak and Agfa and the desire for the ideal family representation. Madani also created a mobile studio, that travelled to schools and workplaces creating a document of each individual within the organisation for both formal use, such as identity cards, and for domestic use, such as a schoolchild's portrait to be hung in the home. Working during a time of extraordinary political and social upheaval - a history spanning fifty years - the studio archive reveals the everyday and the extraordinary existing side by side.

Images from Madani's enormous archive are being collated by the Foundation Arabe pour l'Image (FAI) who are also co-producing the exhibition. This will be a unique collaboration between The Photographers' Gallery and the Foundation Arabe pour l'Image (FAI), whose curatorial work has, to date, not been represented in the UK. The exhibition will bring acritical and creative currency to the historical photography and this project combines local and historical archive into the contemporary and international dialogue.

Curated by Lisa Le Feuvre, Curator at The Photographers' Gallery and Akram Zaatari, Founding member of the Foundation Arabe pour l'Image (FAI).

A book will be produced to accompany the exhibition. It will introduce Madani's work to awider audience as well as place it within the on-going discourses around photography. The publication will feature reproductions of work selected from Madani's archive, with anessay by Stephen Wright placing Madani's work in the context of artistic production in Lebanon and an interview between Akram Zaatari and Haschem El Madani.

Exhibition: 14 October - 28 November 2004
Gallery hours: Mon-Sat 11 am - 6 pm, Sun noon - 6 pm

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