A self-taught photographer who grew up in Beirut, Sama Beydoun fell in love with analogue two years ago, when she got her great uncle's own Canon A1. "It was love at first sight," she says. Five years later, her career as an art director allows her to use digital cameras for work, but record her intimate, everyday life on film. Seeing film photography as both a challenge, to learn to capture the right shot instead of clicking around, and a stimulating way to give a weight to each picture, she mostly photographs her surroundings, her city, and her friends and family. With the La Sardina she captured some snaps of her life in Beirut, from shoots with friends, nights out, or family snaps.
Hello Sama, it’s great to have you here at Lomography! First off can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Sama, it means ‘sky’ in Arabic. I grew up in Beirut with a magnetizing fascination for my city and its people. Juggling between design, photography, and illustration as a means of expression, I am a creative by trade and passion. On a constant quest for topics related to visual culture and local roots, I see the streets of my city as my greatest source of inspiration. I often let myself wander, often making conversation with strangers and letting my pictures be the beholder of the stories.
Why do you still choose to shoot film?
Learning to shoot film taught me to work for the right shot rather than shooting until I get the right one. It turned photography into a stimulating and challenging exercise, where there is room for error, excitement in the wait, surprise in the result, and realization of what the medium has to offer as an active actor in the storytelling. I’m all for that. I love that it takes the moment out of reality and brings it closer to fiction. There’s a charisma that digitization lost along the way. Developing with your own hands is also quite mesmerizing. Mechanical movements in the dark. The temperature of the chemicals. The right recipe and the ticking clock.
What do you like to shoot the most?
I define my experience with film as capturing interpersonal moments. Stories that invite dialogue, be it an old man standing in front of his 50-year old shop, struggling to pay the rent; dancing feet and bouncing hearts on a hidden dancefloor, or young passionate people spending their last sunrise in the Spanish sea... It’s hard to say, it’s heartfelt and it’s fleeting moments that are up for grabs if you have your camera to immortalize them.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Definitely the people around me. The energy, the encounters, the empathy, the poeticism of telling a tale and making people relate. However, this connection directly relates to how life is unfolding at the moment. Whether good or bad, I try to absorb the present moment. It’s not always rainbows and butterflies.
The past year in Lebanon has been the hardest one to date for most of its people. The anger, the protest, the revolution, the misery and the damage of a deadly blast that left me and many others wounded physically, and a whole nation heartbroken. Those are also stories that need to be told. Raw, authentic, unedited, and from the heart.
Can you tell us a bit about the photo series you sent us?
Some of those shots were taken in one of the only parks that exists in Beirut. It was brought down to be “renovated” – but odds are it’ll be bought to bring up yet another high-rise building overlooking the mountains and blocking the view. Some of those shots have been taken in my favorite club, with one of my close friends playing on vinyl. This club is closed now due to the economic crisis and my friend (that works as a DJ and booker) is seeing his career face a dead-end if he chooses to stay in Beirut. Some of those are shot around the country, trying to leave the weight of the city in search of some fresh air. Those pictures feel like a different world now, a reality that is far, far away.
From the pictures you shot, do you have a favorite one? Can you tell us the story behind it?
The picture of my brother on the bed is actually the first one I took on the Sardina ever! He had just gotten home after a surgery and my cat was clearly offering warmth and support. This picture feels like home.
How did you become so comfortable using "La Sardina"?
No magic recipe! Trial and error. It’s a very special camera that clearly leaves its signature on how you capture the world around you. The colored-filters, the grain and textures, and the different flash settings that give value to the subject differently. Lots of fun ingredients for all sorts of recipes.
Do you have any tips to give to someone who’s new with this camera?
Don’t let it intimidate you! Use it to its full potential. It has the ease-of-use of the point-and-shoot but a lot of twists and perks that make it unique. Try double, triple, quadruple exposures. Shoot with flash and without, and don’t forget the colored filters!
What do you like about this camera?
What I love about this camera is that it doesn’t intimidate the people I’m shooting. They mistake it for a toy and it breaks the ice directly. We immediately laugh because they’re not sure whether to take me seriously or not; this is when I get a genuine moment on film. Needless to say, it also allows me to be in control of the double exposure, without ever making me take the roll out and loading it again, unsure of which image would print on top of which. That’s huge!
Are you working on any upcoming projects we should be on the lookout for?
I’m traveling soon, excited to be discovering new places and new people on different continents. Hopefully jumping between Beirut, Paris, Shanghai and Toronto. Hop on, follow me on Instagram, I’ll take you with me.