THE LEICA V LUX 20, “REAL” LIFE REVIEW Beirut BY NASSER KALAJI
Almost 60% of the Arab population is under the age of 25 , Hip Hop is their weapon of choice when it comes to voicing out their frustrations , conditions, aspirations, fears, hopes , thoughts and feelings. When I met up with Yassin of I voice last week in Beirut I wanted him to show me the conditions in Palestinian refugee camps, the conditions that influence him to do hip hop, Yassin took me to two camps, the Sabra and Shatilla camps where the infamous massacare occured in 1982 and the Burj AL Barajneh camps , where he lives. Both camps are dominated by different Palestinian and Lebanese groups, Hamas, the PLO, the popular front for the liberation of Palestine , Fateh, Amal and Hizballah are the main players .
It is impossible to take photos freely in the camps, further more the camps are divided according to groups, each group has one or two centers , outside these centers you have guards carrying AK 47 among others weapons , the alleys and streets in the camps also have informants , members and affiliates of the different groups, snapping away with your camera is out of the question , and these members are not the sort to settle with taking away your cameras or film, when you walk in their areas they inspect you from head to toe as you pass them by, they also stare directly in your direction hoping for direct eye contact.S basically the mission on hand was to take photos in an area dominated by frustrated, wronged, hopeless and armed youths that belong to militant armed groups.Nice.
When we were contacted by Leica to do this project I asked our contact there what was so special about this camera and his answer was superior zoom in capabilities, now I don’t claim to be an expert in photography Ive been doing this for six months but from the research I have done I can tell you this, photography, serious photography that is that includes war, conflict, street and documentary photography has been primarily shaped by the innovations of Leica, So with that mind , how would this new innovation perform in the hands of an inexperienced photographer under such conditions? I think the fact that I old started doing this six months ago is very significant because if the images taken are good then you cannot just credit the photographer . Someone left a comment on our blog last week saying they rather buy the Olympus Pen instead of this product from Leica, I own that camera, and I own the old model as well, and while its a great camera the V LUX 20 can do things that Olympus simply cannot do. You can not take the sort of photos I am about to show you here with the PEN because its size and noise will surely draw the attention of the guards and different people in the camp. do you really want to get into an argument with an 18 year old PLO member cause you want the high resolution that the Pen has to offer? The V lux has the zooming advantage , it has the size advantage , it has the silent shutter advantage and the resolution of its images are good enough , yes the Pen has better resolution but I am not shooting sunsets . the fact of the matter that there is no other camera out there on the market this size, this small that can do what this Leica does. some suggested that the Panasonic one is similar , I don’t know cause I have not tried it.
Yassin and I took a cab to the camps, on the way I saw this graffiti , translated it means no to sectarianism, in Lebanon that phrase pretty much sums up the political situation of the past 35 years in the country.
The wiring again, I have written about this before , the electrical wires are laid and hung together along with the water lines, these lines are made out of plastic, they easily leak,a number of people die each and every year in the camps because of this.
This was indeed a sobering moment, Yassin tells me , I have to show you this and points towards something to our right, he goes on to tell me that we are going to visit the burial site on the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of 1982 , so we walk into a huge yard , I see different signs , this is one of them, behind the signs there is a huge wall, so I wonder where the graves are , as I get ready to take the picture I ask him where are they buried, he answers …… we are standing on them.
The streets of the Arab world are full of a contradictions, in the prolifically charged camps this is ever so evident, on the left there is a poster commemorating the death of an Islamic Jihad leader by the Israelis and on the right album covers and pictures of Nancy Ajram the sex symbol in the Arab world along with other pop artists and also one of Sameer Ghanim one of the most famous Arab comedians .
This slogans says, the Palestinian camp is a place of your temporary residence keep its……. the last word has a poster on top of it but one can make out what the word was still, its cleaniness, I like the fact that the word is covered by the poster.
I think music , specially hip hop and rap ,has had the most influence on my style of photography, when you listen to a song that’s full of brilliant word play or a jazzy beat from madlib you sort of zone in to the song, photography allows you to turn that zoning out into art. I almost always have my I-Pod on when shooting, this time however I had Yassin in my ear ,I was basically getting a socio economic , political breakdown of the camp, before we entered this area which is under the control of the PLO, I asked Yassin about the political affiliations of the camp youth, Yassin explained to me that the situation varies from camp to camp and in Bur Al Barajneh where he is from kids stay together from grade one until they graduate and thus form very strong bonds of friendship . Further ,he explained , that because of this the kids , teenagers and young adults in the camp , pretty much share the same world views , he went on to add that the problems and divisions that exist in the camp are because of the differences within the older refugees. He also added that a lot of the young members that belong to militant groups do so because of financial reasons ( these groups give salaries , medicine and other privileges to its memebers) He laughed as he told me how these youngsters switch allegiances when their salaries are late.Yassin warned me several times not to take picture in the this area , and this is where the Leica V-LUX 20 showed its worth, because of its size I was able to use it, because of its superior zoom in capabilities I did not need to move very close to my subjects. The fact that I walked away with several good shots in the span of 45-60 seconds is a testament to the camera taking into account that I am an amateur street photographer.Camera are all about what they can deliver in real life situations, and in this instance the Leica V LUX 20 showed its an awesome weapon to have in your arsenal.
The way street photography is going , with all the talent out there , with all the subjects that have been covered, photographers who want to break through in the industry and maintain their statues are venturing into deeper , gritier , streets, camps , slumps , ghettos and locations, this work would not be what it is without these shots and it would not have been possible to take these shots without the Leica V LUX 20 .
I love the irony in the message ,yet another poster from hamas , yet another call for martyrdom, how about we fix some wires, I mean like seriously people, not the govt, the 99999 different groups in the camps, not the UN, no one has managed to fix this problem? Should not the Israelis also take responsibility of its actions here?
What impressed me most is that I was able to actually frame shots and I got exactly what i wanted , In the one below I wanted to shoot Yassin approaching the PLO members, I wanted to capture that division between the sunlight and the shadows, I wanted to show my belief ,that its kids like Yassin who are going to battle the powers of darkness in our society, I wanted the vein on his left arm to show and I managed to do all of that with a camera that fits into my pocket. To me that’s what Leica is all about.
I like symbolic shots and this is one . On the wall you have posters from Hamas , they show the picture of murdered member and the words “martyrdom is life “, in the middle you have the old man trying to make a living and on the bottom right a girl who bumped into me accidently and appears to be ducking down politely trying to get out of the way for the shot , and in doing so end up appearing as if she is scarred from the realities surrounding her, the Palestinian struggle, militants, the hard life awaiting her as a Palestinian woman refugee.
Perhaps the most dividing figure in Arab politics Yassir Arafat picture still hangs in certain areas in the camp.
One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter
The best part of the hour and a half I spent with Yassin was at the very last
As he was walking me out of the camp , I was walking in front of him and saw a this little kid looking back at Yassin, when Yassin came closer he approached him and asked him for an album , Yassin then put his hand on the kids shoulder and pointed his house to him and told him to go there to get a free copy of it. The hustle of Yassin has managed to get him acceptance to study music industry in Canada, he is leaving in a few days , yet that moment showed me that he has planted the seeds for a politically aware, conscious , community based ,hip hop movement that will ,I hope ,produce a whole new generation willing to live for a cause rather than die for it. And I think Yassin knows what he has managed to do, that look of determination in the last picture says it all.
Hip hop is dead? Not in these streets.
All the best of luck brother.