Thursday, April 22, 2021

Lucien Samaha: Party in the sky at the AUB galleries.

Photo copyright: Lucien Samaha

You don't follow Lucien Samaha on Instagram? Really? What kind of a creature are you?

Well, that he is one of my favorite photographers, he is an exceptionally warm and communicative human being, and now he is back on show in Lebanon at AUB (he showed previously, but the results were too monochrome to give justice to his incredible color photography!).

The show is accompanied with a long, informative, and exhaustive essay by curator Octavian Esanu which traces back Samaha's life, work and art (which are all inextricably linked actually) - such as being a flight attendant, a DJ and numerous other professions which again, influenced his life, photography and incredible eye. As I said, I am partial to his work and his output as I am a fan, but again if you read the essay it will be clearer why I am so. Understandably, even if Esanu concentrates on World Trade Center issues, as the show is under the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) emblem, it does look at Samaha's work under the umbrella of "Americas" (which was the CASAR them for 2019 before local events derailed it) - a plural term which engulfs many aspects of America at large - and its relation to the Middle East.

Do note however that the connection is not superfluous considering the tight relationship between Samaha and New York though as well as that with his native Lebanon, yet the said aspects of the diversified America in question do not include his "risque" images as they did not make the cut since I am assuming this is a family-friendly exhibit - even if virtual. I can already hear senator Jesse Helms imploring "look at the pictures". I did, and I am not offended this being said.

The AUB exhibition also focuses its lens (har har!) among other topics, on a specific party which Samaha DJed and he dubbed "Mondo-107" at a bar on the 107th floor of the north tower at the World Trade Center called "the Greatest Bar on Earth" (I assume one did not need to check one's ego at the door) - at the time the highest party in the world, ergo an apt description of both, the party and the exhibition, as coined by Samaha: "party in the sky". Also the show sheds a light on the transition between analog and digital photography of which Samaha was one of the pioneers.

Producing such an extensive show in the middle of a global pandemic must have taken a colossal amount of work by everyone involved with all the obstacles that needed to be surmounted to get the final result ready and done. 

As for the image above which seems part of the show as per the AUB presentation and taken on top of the World Trade Center, here's the original story straight from Samaha:

"Andres was one of my passengers coming back from Rome August 1st, 1982. There was so much air traffic delay that evening coming into JFK, that he missed his connection to Savannah. The airline was going to put him up at the Airport Ramada. He had never been to New York so I offered him to take a voucher and come be my guest in my loft in Tribeca.
The next day we did a lot of walking around Manhattan and then visited the observation deck of the South Tower. Fifteen years later I would become the resident Wednesday night DJ at the Greatest Bar on Earth right at that corner across. The first few weeks I had so much fun with a just a small crowd of friends who had been coming to my various gigs in lower Manhattan, but then the party took off and was lauded as the best party of the summer of 1997. One night in September that year, the bar made more money than they ever had before or after.

I was supposed to Deejay on September 12. In what direction would my life have gone had the Towers not been destroyed? as so many other lives that were also directly affected by the tragedy."

But again, if Samaha is DJing the party, I will have my COVID snood on, and I am partying like if it was 1999!