Art Portfolio: Vianney Le Caer’s Beirut Sun Tanners
How did you discover the AUB beach?
“I discovered it by pure chance in February 2015. I was on assignment in Lebanon for an NGO, working on the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. I had some free time one morning and walked along the Corniche, when this group of men caught my eye. I immediately felt something very interesting was going on there, but I was not quite sure I would be welcomed with my camera. Too anxious at first, I let it go and started walking away. However, soon enough, I couldn’t help myself and had to try. To my surprise, I was immediately greeted by Abu Khodor, the eldest and most respected suntanner of the beach, who happened to love having his picture taken. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, I felt very welcomed and Abu Khodor made sure to pass the word around that I could take any picture I wished.”
Is the fighting that is happening nearby a topic of conversation at the beach, or is the beach seen as a place of total escapism, untainted by political upheaval?
“Lebanon is a country that relies on a very fragile peace consensus and war really is an everyday conversation in society in general. This community of suntanners was no exception and Abu Khodor once explained to me that he had come to the beach every day for the past 25 years. When Israel bombed the country in 2006, he recalled being the only person on the beach, sunbathing and watching the Tzahal fighter jets as they flew above. These men also frequently joked about ISIS – extremely self-conscious about their practice of Islam, they would often tell me, ‘If Daesh were to see us praying this way, they would behead us straight away.’”
It sounds like you met some amazing characters at the beach, especially Abu Khodor.
“At times, I was under the impression he was almost a ‘pack leader’. He is a very colourful character, who doesn’t smoke or drink. He used to work as a crane operator in the nearby Port of Beirut. He is a family man who always carries around with him pictures of his wife, children and, of course, a lot of pictures of himself as well.
He is very proud to grow his own vegetables and make his own suntanning lotion. He is also a very precious man who refuses to give out his real age.”
If there were one message you wanted to convey through Beirut Sun Tanners, what would it be?
“I think the key word of this project should be ‘happiness’. I don’t recall ever meeting anyone as happy as Abu Khodor. He enjoyed the simplest pleasures of life to the fullest, without caring about what anyone else might think or do.”
Vianney Le Caer is represented by Jonathan F Kugel
Taken from Issue 44 of 10 Men, TRIBE PACK QUEST, out now…