How photographer Tariq Keblaoui helped the world play witness to Lebanon's protests

The Lebanese-Palestinian filmmaker's photographs will be featured at the 2021 Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah

A photograph taken during Lebanon's October 2019 revolution shows a man sitting on a chair perched on a toppled rubbish bin in the middle of the street. The Lebanese flag is tossed over his shoulder like a cape. A satellite dish is balanced upright by his side like a shield, slogans of protest scrawled across it.

A large group of people are gathered behind the man. Some are wearing gas masks, others keffiyehs, and are wielding the Lebanese flag. Some are simply standing by fiery dustbins, defiant and insistent on bringing about change in a country devastated by years of endemic corruption.

Tariq Keblaoui says he was set on   documenting the event as accurately and unflinchingly as he could. Tariq Keblaoui
Tariq Keblaoui says he was set on documenting the event as accurately and unflinchingly as he could. Tariq Keblaoui

The photograph is one of several taken by Tariq Keblaoui during the first days of the protests. Carried by major news outlets across the world, Keblaoui’s photographs were, for many, the first glimpse of what was happening in Beirut at the time.

The photographs are now set to be featured at the Xposure International Photography Festival in Sharjah, taking place from Wednesday to Saturday, giving the Lebanese photojournalist and filmmaker the opportunity to highlight issues that still grip his native country.

“I was personally quite attached to what the movement stood for,” Keblaoui tells The National. “Being on the front lines to photograph the situation as an independent journalist was, for me, the right thing to do. There was no room to give up, to sit by and let things happen.”

Keblaoui says he felt like he needed to contribute because “change never comes easily".

“I have always prioritised going as far as I can to get the strongest images because I strongly believe in the importance of documentation and freedom of expression and the press.

He documented the protests from the day they broke out on October 17, 2019. Often, he put himself in risky situations, becoming a victim of the violence. But he says shying away was not an option, especially since he was set on documenting the event as accurately and unflinchingly as he could.

Tariq Keblaoui went down to the street to document  the protests from the day it broke out on October 17, 2019. Tariq Keblaoui
Tariq Keblaoui documented the protests from the day they broke out on October 17, 2019. Tariq Keblaoui

“I was beaten up, rocks were thrown at me and I was routinely threatened,” he recounts. “However, at the end of the day, I was able to capture photos and videos that I believe made quite an impact.”

A photograph that stands out for Keblaoui is one he took on the first day of protests, near Martyrs’ Square. The image – as seen in the photo gallery above – shows a man in a sleeveless shirt, shouting towards the camera, frustration and anger evident on his face. Fires in the street, the illuminated blue dome of Mohammad Al Amin Mosque and the lit tower of the Maronite Cathedral of Saint George can be seen in the background.

“It is one of the images that has stayed with me the most just because of the composition and the young man yelling at me out of frustration and blaming the sectarian politicians for the corruption and the lies they told the people,” Keblaoui says.

“This image captured, for me, the awesomeness and the energy of the first night and the level of frustration among the people that drove them to the streets to say they had had enough.”

Tariq Keblaoui's works will be featured at the 2021 Xposure International Photography Festival. Tariq Keblaoui 
Tariq Keblaoui's works will be featured at the 2021 Xposure International Photography Festival. Tariq Keblaoui

Keblaoui says his secret to taking a great picture is always being prepared.

“There is always something happening out there which we tend to miss when we are at home watching media all day and indulging in everyday routines.”

He says a willingness to be on the front lines is needed in a good documentarian.

“Whether that means covering a revolution or filming birds or exploring different cultures, you always need to be out there, ready and familiar enough with your tools, so you can capture the moment when it comes to you.

"The saddest thing that can happen is being there at that moment and not being able to capture it because you did not expose the shot correctly or your batteries were not charged."

Updated: February 9, 2021 08:02 PM

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