NOVEMBER 10, 2023
The word 'majaz' describes a passageway between the street and the rooms in a traditional Arabic house. It ensures that the transition between the private and the public spheres is subtle instead of brutal and sudden. Those are not my words. That is what Ornella, who is portrayed here, told me in our first conversation. She should know, she is running a magazine that carries this name.
Born in a village in rural Lebanon, she trained as a formal journalist. Now, she lives in Europe - and until recently, in Toulouse. With this change, she has also changed the way she works. She has gone from recounting the news to telling human stories, from journalist to writer. Her magazine tells stories of people in Lebanon, daily aspects of ordinary life, captured in long-form stories and enriched with polaroids. When she speaks, it is obvious that this new way of writing is where her heart lies.
Ornella wanted this change, this new life of hers documented. To my surprise, she reached out to me. I had done portraits before, but only of people I knew very well. I was very happy to try and overcome that barrier - but in the end I do believe you can only capture so much of a person if you don't get to know them at least a little bit. So we took our time. We had coffee together, and I got to meet her husband Elias too. We talked about our upbringings, the differences in colors between Lebanon and France, places of comfort, and our shared love for food. We went location scouting together. We picked out an outfit. And only then, when we felt good and ready, we met for the shoot.
I assume this way of taking photographs is unsustainable if you financially depend on it. I don't, and that's a blessing. Being able to slow down like this and to forge a genuine human connection made this whole process so much more rewarding - and I'm sure it made the images better too. I love the way they turned out (my god is medium format film made for this!) and they contain some of my favorite shots from this year.
What pleased me most about this project was that it had such a classic purpose: to document a significant point in time. Like someone leaving a traditional Arabic house, Ornella is going through a transition. This is her own majaz, a space where time slows down and change becomes a little softer. These photos are a snapshot of that space, and it's their job too to provide warmth and care. That is the essence of what we tried to do here.