AMMAR ABD RABBO | DIARY OF AN ARTIST IN INTERESTING TIMES

Taking up this issue’s theme of ‘The Diary of an Artist in Confinement Interesting Times’, Selections invited artists to share their thoughts on work, art and life in general since the beginning of the year. We guided them with the following questions:

What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
If you were to write a note, a reminder, a memory to yourself, or to the world, in a time capsule, and you were to open it 15 years from now, what would it say?
If you had to describe the year 2020 in brief, what would it sound like?
Some of you have dedicated this year so far to working continuously in your studio; some others have found themselves completely demotivated and have halted everything. What have you been doing? Please describe in detail and share with us the work you have been doing during this period.
The pandemic has changed our perception of time and our relationship to our homes. What is your experience?
How do you see the future of art?
Have you been reading?

Some chose to respond in a diary form or with visual storytelling; others provided their answers at varying length and in different ways. Each provides a unique insight into and reflection of the most extraordinary period of our lives to date.


What image(s) illustrate(s) 2020 for you so far?
The empty streets of major cities. Among my photos, Paris… And among other people’s images, Mecca, Vatican City, Times Square. It’s truly the ‘novelty’, the unusual sight of 2020. Of course, the images of the Beirut blast will also remain in our minds.

The memory of this time for me is that so many events have been cancelled, and so much time spent doing almost nothing, with blessed ‘out of time’ moments with family and loved ones. Will this happen again?

The year 2020 for me is surreal, masked, a paused year. During this time, I decided to do what I do best: shoot photos. I documented lots of Paris’ usually crowded streets, now empty. The tools I have been using are different cameras, my eyes, Zoom software, and various masks!

The “lockdown” itself was an unprecedented moment, where everything was halted, no more deadlines, no rush. Of course, I was still sending and receiving emails, but no-one was in a hurry anymore. People were either taking their time, or realising it was useless to be too fast and running. Also, there were some rituals to set with the family, to ease staying all together, as there was no more rhythm of travelling and coming back, going to work, to restaurants, to theatres, etc.

The whole moment made us all realise the importance of art and culture. We all needed music, movies, books, photos, paintings to fill this empty time. I went back to Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, and I always love reading poetry. I have to admit I faced some issues focussing during this year, and poems are easier to focus and travel with. It might be the year when the power of art was at its height of importance. When you stop running, stop making money, banks block the money you already made, what is left? The magic of culture, the richness of art, the beauty of what we create.


Born in Damascus in 1966, Rabbo lived in Libya and Lebanon prior to ultimately residing in France from 1978. As one of the Arab world’s most important photojournalists, his work has been published in the most widely circulated international publications, from Time Magazine to Paris Match, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and Asharq Al Awsat, where his work graced more than 60 magazine covers. From a 20-year career, his portfolio has amassed intimate portraits of heads of states, as well as world-renowned celebrities such as the late ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson, and includes war coverage in Iraq, Lebanon and Libya, as well as high society events such as the Cannes Film Festival and Paris Fashion Week. Rabbo’s virtual exhibition on the photo-sharing website Flickr has had more than two and a half million visitors.


A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN PRINT IN SELECTIONS #53.

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