Images, Records, Memories, Thoughts

Lucien Samaha - My relationship to Lebanon

I was born in Lebanon on January 26, 1958.
My family emigrated to the USA on August 20, 1970.
Evidence in my passport reveals that I went back on summer vacations three times, in 1973, 74, and 75. The passport shows an exit stamp dated August 11, 1975, after a ten day visit Despite the fact that the killings that sparked the first of the Lebanese civil wars occurred on April 13 of that year, I have no recollection of any anxiety or fear during that visit. I also remember that in my first year in the US, I became extremely home sick for Lebanon and pleaded with my parents to let me return and live there, even if I were to be a boarding student or had to live with relatives. This would have been the summer of 1971, a couple of years before I started photographing in earnest; nevertheless, I did have a small Kodak Instamatic camera with which I took a few snapshots.

My same expired Blue Lebanese Passport reveals an entry into Lebanon on May 18, 1991, not long after the "unofficial" end of 15 years of hostilities, civil wars, and extra-national invasions.
Blue Passport comp small.jpg

I revisited Lebanon in 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, and finally in 2011 for my father's funeral.

From 1973 to 2011, I took 6,274 photographs, approximately 10 hours of analog video in 1995, and various short digital clips starting in 2002. Additionally I recorded a few hours of live radio shows on cassette tape in the early 90's.

In 2012 I started thinking of a book project on photographs I took in Lebanon during my first visit there after a fifteen year absence due to the hostilities, civil wars, and extra-national invasions, when I discovered that the majority of the 120 rolls of film in negative file sheets were not dated, and in fact had no information at all. Preliminary editing resulted in quick identification of those from the years 1995 and later, leaving me with unidentified rolls from the years 1991 and 1992, the two years critical to the book, whose main theme was the physical destruction of Beirut and some of the outlying areas.

I began a long drawn out process of examining every single frame from 52 rolls of color negative film and 25 rolls of color reversal film in mounted slides, for a total of 2707 images. In hindsight, there were only two concrete clues in two photographs from 1992 which turned out to be misleading, and only a handful from those of 1991. I resorted to keeping copious notes of connections and comparisons between rolls of film, including items of clothing, windshield stickers, and facial hair, among others. My departure point was a mounted slide with the Processing Date embossed into the mount. But before I proceed with the investigation, I would like to introduce you to my archive and my system of organization.