“Virtually every family in Lebanon has been touched by its history of conflict, and the deepest wounds are the psychological ones. Nothing is more poignant than the idea of wives and mothers who still own firearms, often the very guns their husbands and sons once carried – and not dissimilar from the weapons that killed them.”
This is how in a few words, Carmen Yahchouchi described the photos she submitted to The 2015 Byblos Bank Award for Photography. But there are no better words to describe this gifted photographer’s work than the photos themselves; photos that unearthed buried emotions inside each and every one of us while speaking to a society’s memories, pains, and constant pursuit of survival.
Before scrolling down to the rest of the post, we invite you to pause for a moment and “read” through the below photo.
In your opinion, what aspect of your photographs earned you the first prize?
Carmen Yahchouchi: Anything can be squeezed into a frame, but the hardest thing to do is to translate what I see with my own eyes using a camera. What mattered to me the most was that people understand the story behind “My Mother’s Gun”, the title of the series. I believe it was this story that contributed to the fact that I earned the first prize of the 2015 Byblos Bank Award for Photography.
Everyone is asking about the identity of the woman in the photo. The expression on her face shows true professionalism in acting. In case she is an amateur (relative), was it easier or harder to get her to reflect the emotion needed?
Carmen Yahchouchi: Victoria may be a professional cook but she is definitely not an actress. All I had to do that day was tell her about my project. After that, she rushed to get her hair done and put some make up on just like she’s used to each time someone wants to take her picture at a wedding or any other event. I asked her not to, and she was so worried about looking messy and old. I only asked her to sit on the bed and show me her gun, while telling me her story. I didn’t even ask her to adjust her posture; she just took the gun and held it next to her chest while talking about her sons and the war.
Was it difficult to get the women to hold the guns?
Carmen Yahchouchi: Surprisingly and weirdly enough, not at all. These women cherished their guns. It made them feel safe and secure. Some hide them in their closest; some know how to use them… And I was blessed to gain their trust to be able to take their photograph while they held these precious belongings.
What was the single most beautiful comment or remark you got about your photo? From either parents, friends, Facebook fans, or jury…
Carmen Yahchouchi: During the exhibition at BEIRUT ART FAIR, there was this woman who was staring at “Victoria” and pointing at the photograph as if she had something to say. She walked backwards without taking her eyes off and I was lucky to be there at that precise moment. She looked at me without even knowing that I took this photograph saying: “This portrait, this woman, moves something deep down in my soul, I can relate to this.” She gave me goose bumps. That was the comment I needed to hear.
When one sees your photographs, they can’t but feel that there is a story behind them. What is the real story you are trying to tell?
Carmen Yahchouchi: Time might help to make things easier, but it never takes the memories and the pain away. Every single time these women went to bed and placed their heads on their pillows, the flashbacks start haunting their minds. Even if war equals men, war was never only about men.. Women had a big role as well: they lost a son, a husband or a relative. They felt pain while waiting, crying and praying to keep their loved ones safe from any harm.
When you first heard about the Byblos Bank Award for Photography, what conversation went on inside your head?
Carmen Yahchouchi: As I sat there staring at my bright screen in my room hesitating about whether to apply or not… Time flew and I realized that I had only ten minutes left to enter this whole new world I felt so tiny in. After going through all the required steps and becoming a candidate, the first question I asked myself was: “Oh well, let us see who will be the lucky winner?” I never imagined it would be me.
If you were to give an “Oscar Speech” for this award, what would you say?
Carmen Yahchouchi: I would probably spend hours writing a thank you note for all the people who helped me, encouraged me, and stood by me during this journey. But once I get up in front of the public, I will definitely react the same way I did when I was announced as the winner of the 2015 Byblos Bank Award for Photography: “Merci beaucoup… je ne peux pas parler” (Thank you very much, I can’t talk right now).
Now that I have a second chance to give such a speech, I would like to thank: Noël Nasr, my teacher and advisor at Notre-Dame University (NDU), who taught me how to find my way on my own; Myriam Dalal, for showing me that positive energy is what drives us to achieve the impossible; Guilio Rimondi, for making me choose my path and helping me fall in love with it; Dalia Khamissy, who saw great potential in me and encouraged me to carry on; Patrick Baz who taught me how to turn the ugly and painful into masterpieces and beauties; BEIRUT ART FAIR, and the members of jury of the 2015 Byblos Bank Award for Photography; all the Byblos Bank team and last but not least my family, my friends and of course… “VICTORIA”.
Byblos Bank’s prize to Carmen Yahchouchi consists of an expert mentoring program under renowned Lebanese photographer Roger Moukarzel and Beirut Art Fair, which will allow her to sharpen her skills and showcase her work at her first solo photo exhibition at Byblos Bank Headquarters in April 2016.
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