Night Out Photography

Myriam Boulos: Night Shift

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Award winning photographer Myriam Boulos talks to AK about why she’s never bored in Beirut, new social codes and why she’s not on Tinder.

AK: Tell us a bit about yourself. What side of the bed do you sleep on?

MB: I sleep on every sleepable bit of my bed possible and I like looking for the cold spots between the sheets.

What was the last dream you remember having?

Hmm… I was walking in the streets on a random night when I saw a washed-out blue car. An old woman with grey hair was crying inside the car. I came closer and realized that, on the seat next to her, her husband was liquefying. There were huge puddles of blood.

This image was aesthetically beautiful: The lights were mostly yellow-orange-ish, a perfect combination with the red blood, both of which came in contrast with the faded colors of the old people as well as the pale blue car. Actually, it reminded me of a Wild at Heart scene, the one in which Sailor and Lula are on a road and there’s an accident with extremely pretty music and everything is a little absurd. In my dream, I faced the old lady for a while, until a friend held my hand and told me to run away with him, as though he was telling me that we should just accept weird things and go on.

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Are you on Tinder? What are your minimum requirements for a right swipe?

I’m not on Tinder. I think you can find sexual tensions everywhere and so don’t need Tinder to sleep with people. Right?

NIGHT SHIFT is a collection of photos from Beirut’s more ‘underground’ nightlife scene. What do you think about the scene in general? Are you a fan of the music? Where do you like to go out?

Honestly, my knowledge of this music is very limited. All I know is that it makes people dance and it gets our ears and head busy. This kind of music is a good reflection of our time: we move a lot and act more than we think. After all, that’s why we go to these kinds of events: to enjoy the present, forget the rest and let go. What I like about Lebanon is that there are so many other things to do apart from these events. On a cultural level, I mean. I really don’t understand people that still complain about being bored in Lebanon!

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Most of your photos are taken in repurposed venues. Old factories, train stations and warehouses are being transformed into both pop-up and permanent venues. How much do you think the locations add to a rave aesthetic? What attracted you to the venues that you chose?

At night, when the social map of Lebanon (or rather Beirut) takes form, these places are the ones that attract me. Mostly because the esthetic dimension of these locations comes within a logic that is closest to my way of thinking. It is a way of going back to everything in its raw and unsophisticated state. A kind of way to say no to the bling bling of other Lebanese parties which have this (bad) habit of putting money forward and judging based on material possessions: “I have the biggest car, the biggest bottle, the biggest clothing brands, etc…”

In the venues I have chosen, people are creating new social codes and norms which are opposed to this logic. I truly hope that this is not just a fashion or a trend and that this movement will be exploited to further develop in a positive way.

You’ve spoken about your subjects having an “individual façade” and that they use their appearance to “plunge into anonymity”. Beirut is a small place and the scene can be almost insular at times. On the topic of anonymity, people change when the camera is out. What’s your technique for capturing real moments as opposed to the kind of rave photos that you’re normally used to seeing?

In reinventing social codes (in terms of clothes for instance) and in applying them, people who attend these parties identify themselves and are accepted by the regulars. So in a way, they blend in, become a number (and this is the basis of a factory: produce in mass and in identical form). On another hand, everyone needs to stand out individually.

This way, people hide behind games, and the mask they choose reveals everything.

This theatricality is certainly magnified in the presence of a camera.

I took a huge number of pictures per evening (and received many “please fikeh tsawrina” [please can you photograph us] accompanied by “duck faces” and peace signs), but I only kept the ones that correspond to my way of seeing things.

So on one hand, I take what people are willing to give me, and on the other, I use these people to print my own vision on them.

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Does one image from the project stand out amongst the rest? Do you ever feel a connection to your subjects even though you might not know them outside of your work?

My favorite photograph is the one of Carla in the bathroom (the blond girl with a hidden eye, with the people in the mirror behind her). We had just had a long conversation, and while we were taking the pictures, she wasn’t the only subject of the camera; she was posing for me, but her head was elsewhere. And it was the mixture of my focus on her + “the elsewhere” in which she was + the context and the people surrounding us which all made the picture. The photograph in itself is a bit of a lot of different things that I want to say through my project, and it represents well my view on the evolving role of the girl, woman, young woman in this society.

What would you be doing if you weren’t taking photos?

Oh wow! I wouldn’t be the same person! I would be a completely different person. I would’ve remained shy for sure. I probably would be doing illustration and playing on some flute if I hadn’t found photography.

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What’s next for you? What are you currently working on?

I am actually working on my master project: “Lorsqu’elles ne sont plus femmes de ménage mais femmes tout court”, which has opened up my eyes to so many issues.

I am also preparing an exhibition with le Collectif Gémeaux (composed of an illustrator, Michèle Standjofski, who also happens to be my mom, a psychologist/neuroscientific, Laura-Joy Boulos, who happens to be my sister and a photographer, myself). Our project is called “Disorder(s) in Beirut”. Basically, I take photos of different districts in Beirut, my mother draws characters on the drawings and my sister gives them a diagnostic.

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