As visually alluring as it is politically complex, Lebanon is an easy place for a photographer to fall in love with. However, the tangled web of sectarian interests and the deep sense of history that have resulted in this tiny Levantine nation becoming a source of fascination for generations of documentarians also make it an extremely difficult place to truly reach beneath the skin of. Born and raised in Beirut, Rania Matar now lives in the United States, but travels back to her home country regularly. Enjoying the access of the insider while viewing the many dichotomies of contemporary Lebanese life with the questioning eye of the oustider, her work exists in stark contrast to so many chroniclers of the region. Its focus is neither the devastation of war nor the overt tensions of conflict; rather the quiet, the contemplative, the personal.
While grainy pictures of battle-scarred buildings can be taken by anyone armed with a Leica and a plane ticket, Matar's representations of people - especially women and girls - are unique, captivating, quietly revelatory. In fact, if a single word accurately describes her work, it is "intimate". Throughout Ordinary Lives, a recently published collection of black and white photographs taken between 2003 and 2007, this sense of empathy is achieved in a variety of contexts. Often it has been developed over time, but just as frequently it is found in a single fleeting moment. Take as respective examples the image of two young Palestinan girls veiling themselves under a portrait of their dead mother and the innocent joy of a child playing among the devastation of Haret Hreik after the 2006 Israeli bombardment. Both are poignant, intensely human and, above all, calmly, powerfully honest.
Ordinary Lives by Rania Matar is published by The Quantuck Lane Press.