"Retrieving Beirut" was a tag stamped on the walls throughout Beirut's Gemmayze district, an area of art galleries, cocktail bars, and western-style coffee shops and bakeries. Gemmayze, at the same time, showed the carnage of past wars and decades of decay. It was a small strip of Beirut at once rapidly gentrifying and gripping fiercely to its roots. That was 2018. The tag "Retrieving Beirut" could have meant many things. Retrieving Beirut's memories, retrieving Beirut from corruption and neglect, retrieving its 7000 years of history from the portrayals of Lebanon by outside powers.
When the blast hit the port of Beirut in August 2020, I learned with great sadness that the streets I lived in during my month stay in 2018 were gravely damaged or destroyed. Those streets were too complicated for me to interpret back then, blighted as much by development and gentrification as by war and neglect. These were the streets of LGQT pride and patriarchal gazes, of personal and community altars and declarations scoring all walls. I've been going through my photographs of this small part of Beirut, knowing that what they contain is most likely unrecognisable now, whether from urban development, the spoliation of covid, and now the port's blast. There are many conversations about what art and photography "matters." Maybe I am naive, or just an historian or archivist at heart, but I find it all matters.