Last chance: Fouad Elkoury’s The Lost Empire

Fouad Elkoury's Bunker 2010 (Chromogenic Print Diasec 72x90cm) from The Lost Empire at The Third Line (Courtesy: Fouad Elkoury and The Third Line)
Fouad Elkoury's Bunker 2010 (Chromogenic Print Diasec 72x90cm) from The Lost Empire at The Third Line (Courtesy: Fouad Elkoury and The Third Line)

The writer Negar Azimi calls Fouad ElKoury a mute witness. Referring to the travels he took around Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union between 2009 and 2011, she writes that ElKoury, is a photographer by nature of his medium but with an artistic mind.

“Unlike the photojournalist who yearns to be there in the moment,” she writes, “[ElKoury] is a photographer of traces, he takes his time and thinks hard about where he will go.”

Azimi is a New York-based writer who penned the accompanying essay for Fouad El ElKoury’s solo show that opened in The Third Line in April and will run until the end of this week.

The show is a collection of bleak landscape photographs of former Soviet bases dotted around Hungary, Poland, Germany Estonia and Kazakhstan.

Azimi’s title is so apt because ElKoury made his travels without being able to speak the language and had to bribe many of the sleepy guards to let him into these places that have been left untouched and unexplored for years.

It is also pertinent because the images convey a deep sense of the abandonment of the bases and the surrounding landscapes, that almost shouts from them in silence. “It is thunderous,” Azimi writes about the silence, “it wraps around you like a blanket.”

Talking to ElKoury when he was in Dubai for the opening, he explained to me that he was driven by instinct.

“For me taking a picture is something very instinctive, at one point I have something in my hand that starts shaking and at that moment I know I have to take a picture,” he explains. “In these images, I guess I want to show what I was feeling and the value of the silence.”

Titled The Lost Empire, ElKoury’s show is a kind of extension to his large solo showing in Paris at Maison Européenne de la Photographie. There, the images are shown on a projection screen next to a series of pictures of Yasser Arafat in 1982 leaving Beirut on a ship sent by the Greek prime minister.

It was during the presentation of this show that ElKoury realised he was a historical artist. “It was then I realised that my work captures crucial historical moments,” he says with a kind of pensive retrospection that he says is new to him now that he is in his 60s.

Born in 1952 in Paris, ElKoury, who is Lebanese, has photographed Beirut during the civil war and published a postwar work, Beirut City Centre (1992). After co-founding the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut, collecting and studying historical pictures of the region, ElKoury questioned the purpose of single photographic images and began to combine them with text and video. His series What happened to my dreams (2008-2009) addressed a wide range of socio-political issues and was exhibited simultaneously in Dubai, Paris and Beirut. That was the last time he showed in The Third Line.

With this latest series, we see contemplation and emotion as well as bleak recantation of a story that many have tried to forget.

* The Lost Empire runs until May 29 at The Third Line in Dubai. For more info visit the website

Published: May 26, 2014 04:00 AM

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