Things That Don’t Resemble Us

May 25, 2012 in Alaina Kantarjiana, Angelo Romano, Workshops

On Monday 28 May 2012 at 5.00 PM, we invite you to a lecture „The Daoura people – a community in limbo”, based on a research project carried out in Beirut. The lecture will take place in Kamienica Sztuki, Garbary 101/111 the Old Slaughterhouse (Stara Rzeźnia), building C. Admission is free.

On Alain Kantarjian’s Photographic Practice

Despite its heterogeneous and diverse character, the photographic work of Alain Kantarjian essentially talks about subjects that are less accessible and on the margin, or even on the backside of society, subjects on the threshold between the visible and the invisible. This interest in things that don’t resemble us or for ‘alterity’ can concern individuals within their social environment like the people of the port of Daoura who live on the brink of Beirut. This local community is hard to describe demographically as the mix of migrant workers, refugees, fishermen, and sexually ambivalent, gay and transvestite youth are neither a coherent group nor a mix of unrelated individuals. Their common denominator correspondes to more than the geography of the port area named Daoura, for example to their joint dwelling  and life conditions on the periphery of administration, bureaucracy and societal law. Nevertheless, the mix and simultaneity of such a vast array of different individual backgrounds, biographies, trajectories seems so improbable that one is tempted to wonder if this ‘community’ is even real. Or could it be a fictional account of an imagined ‘counter-culture’? Documentary photography here seems turned upside down, and its presupposed access to the real as well as its promise to document the existing world suspended.

But Alain Kantarjian’s interest in the hidden or marginalized does not only concern the social sphere of humans, it also extends to inanimate objects, built environments or architecture that are long out of use or function and are closed and shut down, sealed off, like time capsules, barely visible to the attentive passer-by and surely invisible to most of the rest. It is in this vein that the artist photographed the Grand Hôtel Villa de France building, the different cinemas in the Arab and Middle-Eastern region, and other buildings that formerly had strong symbolical and historical meanings but now are ruins left over from societies whose course of life has turned elsewhere. Although it might be hard to thoroughly avoid romantic overtones in such sites, it is not nostalgia that guides the photographer, but what one might call the dialectics of historical probability, i.e. that even the most noteworthy, seemingly permanent and symbolically charged projects can collapse and sink into oblivion, becoming as it were improbable when viewed at a distance. Photography, it seems, makes the fragility of social symbolism manifest.

In the series “Oh, Marie France!” Alain Kantarjian combines the two interests for, on the one hand, phenomena on the threshold of the visible and, on the other hand, photography’s speculative relation to the real. The series shows a sequence of photographs on the highway leading into Beirut with two young women interacting with the cut-through posters of a lingerie-model provocatively exposing her bare breasts. There is also a young man (or is it a transvestite? or a woman in male cloth?) strolling around in the darkness somewhere between the sea’s expanse and the city’s outer limits – again a kind of wasteland, in which questions of sexuality, gender, urban realities are continuously put into play. It is a somewhat theatrical setting with brazen performances that puts big question marks behind the whole situation and its pre-supposed authenticity.

But it’s one of the least ‘documentary’ works that might give us a key to the deeper concern in his work. It’s the pieces entitled „Structures” and „Pliages”. They seem at times abstract, quasi constructivist pieces, at times, say, models reminiscent of illustrations for geometry handbooks. The first impression is diverse and multi-form. But the obvious difference hides another component:  that they are in fact variations of possibilities inscribed in the formal premises of the series – a simple paper with a pre-given size, for example of an A4, or a sheet of metal that, while staying in principle the same, is folded and arranged in different ways so as to lose all initial standardized appearance. Especially when viewed in the sequence of their development including the differences, alterations and permutations, the ‘structures’ become the surprising conceptual turning point in Alain Kantarjian’s photographic practice. The singular photograph here is an instant that echoes the underlying structure, and the potentiality and probability of that structure. It’s a general condition of this work and is true, to different degrees, in all the series. As the artist has said on another occasion: „Les papiers pliés sont un peu comme des modeles photographiques.” [„The folded papers are a bit like photographic models.”] The work of Alain Kantarjian – whether the long-term observations of people’s lives and of architectures or the abstract motifs – deploys itself in time, and space is its hypo- thesis, probable and improbable at the same time.

Link to the artist:

Daniel Kurjaković
April 2011

2011 © Daniel Kurjakovic. All rights reserved.
Text originally printed in the booklet Alain Kantarjian: Ces choses qui ne nous ressemblent pas (2011). Info: