THE LEICA-MAGNUM EVENT.
It was a beautiful summer evening in Paris, the weather was simply amazing, the event was held at one of the nicest palaces I have seen, the typical Paris story would dictate that I now go on and talk about the beautiful lady sharing that evening with me, instead I was surrounded by two Jordanian from the city of Karak, oh yes and a selection of some of the finest photographers in history!
Che, Nasser, the Vietnam war, the construction of the Berlin wall, the Six days war, Arafat, King Hussein, Sadat, Nixon, are all iconic personalities and events in mankind’s history, when one thinks of them, one often thinks of them in relation to an image, most these images were taken by Magnum photographers with Leica cameras.
Though they have shared over 60 years of history together, the relationship between Leica and Magnum was never formalized and that was the purpose of this event. Leica also introduced its new M9 model , and btw Leica if you are reading this Laith and I still demand that we get a couple of those.
The event began with panel discussions about the challenges photojournalists face in today’s world vis-à-vis technological developments such as phone camera, twitter and facebook. The panel included, representatives from the media , Leica , Magnum . Leica had asked us to nominate a blogger to participate in this discussion and our choice was Jordan’s own Naseem Tarawneh, founder and contributor to http://www.black-iris.com/ and 7iber.com. As evident by the video Leica put out and feedback we got from the attendees, that was indeed a very wise choice. I take immense pride in what this young man and his team has managed to do in reference to social media in Jordan and the Arab world, and to see him debate his point of view with such knowledge and confidence was simply awesome.
After the debate, the attendees were invited to a reception dinner and that really was when the fun began, as Laith and I began debating on how to best approach photographers whom we have admired for so long . Do you go up to them and introduce yourself and try to show them your portfolio? Do you wait for a Leica contact to introduce you? We really did not know.
To our surprise it was they who approached us! And I think they did so because of two things, first Naseems excellent contribution to the discussion panel .I also think people were curious to know what three Jordanians were doing at such an event.
Here is the interesting thing about great photographers, while most people would recognize their work, their rarely know how the photographer looks like . So, Laith, Naseem and I were talking when a gentleman appraoched us and asked if we were all from Jordan . He then he asked us if we were Palestinian background .
The man soon followed that question with tales of shooting in Amman before and during Black September in Jordan. He told us of shooting with President Nasser during wartime, of shooting with King Hussein during the course of his 40 plus year rule, of shooting at the offices of Nayif Hawatmeh, George Habash and so on and so forth. The man only introduced himself as Bruno and at one stage, I leaned towards Laith and asked him, “ That cant be Bruno Barbey can it?” soon we asked him, and when he told us he was he reached to get out a business card as if to verify it!
Bruno soon introduced us to Rene Burri, whose first words to us were “ Keffak Habibi “ which in Arabic means “ How are you beloved “ and he too shared with us some remarkable stories about Che Guevara, Castro, Nasser, and King Hussein among others.
This wonderful experience made me realize a few things, first and this goes out to all aspiring photographers, reach out man, if you are fond of a certain photographers work, reach out to them, most of the time you will get a positive response, in the past two years we have gotten some wonderful responses from some of the best photographers in the world, whether it was the Mochilla crew out in LA, Ron Haviv from VII or Magnum in this case. What drives most of these photographers is the search for a better understanding of the world and to capture truths that are seldom seen in mainstream media, so they always welcome additions to their ranks.
Second and this is geared to people in the Middle East, we should no longer contend of being able to say ” the best in Jordan” or “the first to do so and so in the Middle East”, aim for the stars son. At that event I saw first hand how we have bloggers capable of going head to head with photo editors of some of the top publications in the world. The same applies to filmmakers, musicians, writers, producers etc. Stop comparing yourselves and your work with fellow Arabs or people around you, strive for your work to be on the same level of the best who ever done it.
Third, hearing all those wonderful tales about modern Middle Eastern history from, people who were there to witness it, was exciting but it also made me sad, because after all these years, that work has never been shown in our region. Take the work that was done by these photographers in Jordan in the 1960’s and 70’s as an example, most of these events are not even taught in school curriculum in Jordan, and today in the Middle East as we work to shape our future, much of that narrative is missing, its missing from the minds of the people, from the speeches of the reformers and most certainly from the official narrative, so how can we proceed properly and learn from our mistakes of if we even refuse to talk about them?
Lastly, while there have been many great Arab or Middle Eastern photographers in the past and present, none have made it to agencies like Magnum or VII, this is important because most of the significant work in photography has been done in the middle east but it has been missing our own take on the narrative. I hope to see one of us make it one day and I have a feeling that we will witness that soon.
Jean Jacque, thank you once again man, not in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would have this opportunity.