After years spent documenting Beirut’s alternative music scene, photographer Tanya Traboulsi reveals a more private side in her first solo show “From a Distance”.

It’s a big night for Tanya Traboulsi. It’s the opening of her first solo exhibition in Beirut, and the friends and collaborators she’s worked with over the last five years are filing in to Art Factum Gallery, along with the regular gallery-goers, to take a look at her work. Entitled “From a Distance”, it’s a sharp departure from the music photography she’s most widely known for. There are no recording studios, skinny lead singers or DJs bent over mixing desks here. Instead, Traboulsi presents seven series, each, in their own way, abandoning music for a more artistic and introspective terrain.

Whether a black and white frame of a stairwell window (La Fenêtre) or a hazy seascape (Fog), each image is a distilled announcement of Traboulsi’s own ambitions as an up and coming artist. The exhibition is also incredibly intimate, and reveals a much more penetrating and personal side to the Austrian-Lebanese photographer, and  lthough she says she’s “more excited than nervous” she admits there’s definitely “a bit of nervousness”. This isn’t helped by the fact she hurt her back today and is clutching a small glass of red wine to numb the pain.

The back problem is an old one. Its return tonight is unexpected, but when the injury was at its worst it had a small yet telling impact on her career. Standing by the side of the stage for hours to take photos at gigs and lugging around her equipment suddenly became a bit more difficult. As a result, she’s had to be more selective about what she does and doesn’t shoot in the past year. Her diary is still full – as well as the music photography she’s constantly running around the city on magazine and book commissions – but it’s arguably this slight physical removal from the “scene” that gave Traboulsi the headspace to develop her work as an artist in her own right. And throughout “From a Distance” there’s a refusal to conform to anyone’s expectations besides her own. “I never work to please others. Perhaps you can call this selfishness,” she says. “The aim of my work isn’t to persuade the viewer to like my work, but rather to trigger their own imagination and thoughts, to raise questions and to go deeper than just the visual surface.”

Traboulsi’s place as a documenter of Beirut’s alternative music scene has always been motivated by an almost nurturing sense of duty. In a scene so closely-knit as in Beirut, she’s known many of the musicians for years – they’ve seen each other grow up, break up, fail and succeed, and in some ways Traboulsi operates like a royal court painter or designated family photographer. Always in the background, her photographs are now definitive. Think of Mashrou’ Leila and Traboulsi’s image of the young band sitting on a row of plastic white chairs springs to mind; think of Scrambled Eggs, and see the band leaning against the white-walled corridors of Radio Liban. Her images, to some extent, provide a visual patois of an otherwise unrecorded time and place.

A fashion design graduate, Traboulsi, now 35, spent the majority of her twenties drifting between odd jobs that never quite fit. Photography first presented itself as an “urge” during the July 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, but she didn’t own a camera. In 2007, “by pure coincidence”, she was given a small plastic camera with some 110 film and asked her friends, local hip hop artists 961 Underground crew and DJ Lethal Skillz, if they’d mind her photographing them. Shortly after, she took her camera to shoot a Scrambled Eggs concert, an experimental rock band she still continues to photograph today. Her photos of the band and many others have now appeared in publications around the world, and culminated in the book “Untitled Tracks: On Alternative Music in Beirut.”

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