Hanan Kazma Tripoli, Lebanon
Hanan Kazma is a Lebanese artist, self-taught in several media. She began a serious pursuit of photography in 2009, creating images ranging through urban landscapes, abstract photography and into private, personal spaces. Transformation and emotion are major elements of her work and especially of her ongoing series of self-portraits.
In 2011 a significant exhibition in Tripoli, Lebanon also celebrated the publication of In Solitude and Out of Control, a book presenting over 200 of her photographs. Besides photography, she has worked with paper collage and created images digitally. she has, in association with several artists produced numerous collaborative works as well as books and participated in collective exhibitions both locally and internationally.
Hanan Kazma was chosen by photographer Emmanuel Knibbe.
Laatikkomo’s interview with Hanan Kazma October 3rd, 2014.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
HK: I am from Lebanon, a small country of the Middle East. Beirut is my city but I lived in a few other places in Lebanon, mainly because of the civil war that tore my country apart during all the years of my youth.
This, as you can imagine, had the greatest influence on me and later, on my art.
I live now in Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, a city very close to Syria and I am reliving the war all over again, in a different way, but the darkness is the same.
I lived also two years in France, in 93-94 . They were not life changing, I don’t think they influenced me in any way; surely not as much as my francophone education and my readings in this language through my whole life. French culture is a big part of who I am.
My places? I would cite that couch near the window where I used to lie and read for hours, and that fig tree in our garden where I used to climb and dream, that hill a little far from my house where pine trees were so big and the air smelled so good. After that I was too old or the places were too ugly, or I don’t remember…
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
HK: I could not cite one particular image, but I can say for sure it was of a photojournalism category.
I should be precise here that as a child I had no access to any kind of library, we had no public library, no school library, not even a regular library where I could have books. That meant no access to art. (War is not only fear and poverty, but what comes with it of disinterest for culture.)
I had at home a big book on modern art. That was my bible. I must have read it a hundred times and I decided at a very young age that I wanted to be an artist “like Gauguin.”
All of this is very classical, I know…
Photography came very late in life, for me.
L: If l understand correctly, photography is not your first profession but you are also a pediatric dentist. How did you slide into photography from dentistry?
HK: My first interest was art, not dentistry for sure. But we should put that in the context of the 80’s in Lebanon. Gaining your life was difficult in those times, one should have a “real” profession, and art was simply not. Difficult times rearrange the priorities of life, and even if young age doesn’t necessarily see it that way, I had my father to “push” me into making the right decision.
I did have very good abilities for medical studies and did not regret my choice really, not for the artistic reasons at least. I had a very good professional life.
I started photography very late, a few years ago (2009) in a very casual way, but always with an artistic interest in the back of my mind. Interacting with other artists online was all that it took for me to “slide” like you say into – and deep into – photography and more largely, image making.
I took it to a more serious level with book making and exhibitions, both solo and collective. But the shift must have happened at one moment in my head. One day you start thinking of yourself as an artist and not a dentist. But you never know what day it was.
L: The blurred, veiled appearance of some of your images projects a nostalgic, melancholic or even scary feeling – something from a dream that you cannot quite grasp. Are these impressions you are intentionally try to capture?
HK: You know, that is one question I ask myself all the time. Before doing photography I always thought of myself as a very pragmatic person with both my feet well anchored on the ground.
And then I started doing images.
It took photography to force me to look into my own eyes., if I may say so. And I’m not talking about self portraits. I do many other categories of photography too, mainly abstract and experimental.
Your description is very accurate, the melancholy, the fear, the hiding behind a veil. I would add the always moving. (I can’t stop in any image, even to take an photo of a wall, of a tree or of the sea, I keep moving). We’re not into analyzing it today, nor into explaining the past or the present life or the character of the artist. There is always a why.
Your question was about how much intention was into it. There might be, on a deeper level. There sure is, but I don’t know how much I put into it intentionally. I would say my work uses me to do itself and not the inverse. I go where the image takes me, and I rarely know beforehand where it goes. One thing is common to my images, I never depict things as they really are. They have to pass through me and come out deformed in some way. Is it intentional? If you think of it that way, yes. The artist is always responsible for what he does.
So, what was my answer, yes or no…
L: Your images are focused in a way that pushes the realistic into the realm of the abstract. What kind of process goes into making your images?
HK: The process is chaotic, I have to say. As soon as I hold a camera I just have to break the most elemental rules (photographers don’t move their hands) (photographers check their camera settings) (photographers look then press the shutter) they do, they don’t…
I may lie to others and call it experimental photography, but I know very well what’s happening, what always happens, should I shoot a wall in the street or flowers in a vase in my salon:
I become frenetic!
I am a very bad photographer.
But I do some very good images or at least very personal images.
Frenzy has its good side too, it makes me enter a second state, where everything else disappears and there is only me and the image to be taken. Not the object I’m taking, but the final image, the future image. That is most of the time more an impression than a real representation. That must be a part of the process.
The other part, the most enjoyable and often the most important is the editing. I do this mostly in the silence and solitude of the night. When the inspiration is here, I can loose myself for hours. That is the true magical place of the creation. Maybe your question about the process has its answer here. Then I can’t give it to you. It’s never the same and you can never reproduce it, once it’s done, you can never do it again.
L: Women often appear as the base of your images, in fragments, blurred or under a textured veil. Is the gender of your subject matter important?
HK: No. Even if it may appear so at a first glance, women in my images are just a direct consequence of using the self as a model. My interest is more the human in its largest sense. You might argue it’s contradictory and that the fact of doing auto portraits is egocentric. I’d say you can’t do real art if you’re not involved in a personal manner in it. I have to go through my own experience to understand and try to express this understanding.
I see it like a scientist using himself for scientific experimentation.
Looking through my lens at an idea, a form or an emotion, studying it again and again through myself, to attain my own – all relative – truth.
And when my art is real, i can reach everyone and everyone can relate. Man or woman.
I can’t remember ever having a reaction to my art related to gender.
By the way and just for the anecdote, as a child I so much wanted to be a boy… 🙂
L: You also work in text and collage. In what way is this work related to the work you do with photography?
HK: I couldn’t really answer this question so I asked a friend what his impressions were.
He said that “in visual terms it has to do with dislocations and transformations. And in terms of impact on the viewer a certain energy and emotion. There’s an effect you create that I might try to describe as ‘this is what I have to say right now.’”
As you see, my friend has a better way with words than me.
What could I add to that: saying things in collage and words was much more direct than with photos. That is why I stopped making collages maybe. At that time I needed to shout things. Now I am back to murmurs and the occasional cries from time to time.
L: What is one of the most important questions that you ask, or would like to inspire others to ask, through your photographs?
HK: Is that real? Is this (me, you, this moment, this image, my perception, this thing we see, we live) is ANYTHING real, or is everything including us, and what make us us, just accidental? That is the question I like my images to incite them to think. And I would like them to be prepared for a very complicated answer.
L: Could you list five or more words related to the work you are showing in Laatikkomo?
Moving/running away or forward
And a word I can’t seem to find, the perpetual reconstruction of one self, the exact opposite of the word disintegration.
Thank you so mush Hanan!