New Asian Currents [LEBANON]

Her and Him Van Leo

Hiya wa Houa Van Leo

- LEBANON / 2001 / Arabic, English, French / Color, B&W / Video / 32 min

Director, Script, Producer: Akram Zaatari
Editing: Michéle Tyan
Production Company: The Arab Image Foundation
Source, World Sales: 10 Francs
8 Rue Lamartine 75009 Paris FRANCE
Phone: 33-1-48744377 Fax: 33-1-48744295
E-mail: 10francs@10francs.fr

A photo shows a beautiful naked woman looking unabashedly at the camera. This is Nadia of Heliopolis, Egypt, in 1959. One day she showed up at the photography studio and asked for twelve photos of herself in the nude. When the filmmaker visits the old photographer, Van Leo, who has been running his studio since 1947, he talked about changes in Egyptian society as seen through portrait photographs. The hand-coloring process used for monochrome negatives has been replaced by color photography and Arabicized morality has censored the nude photos that were once shot. This playful work mixes video technology with old movie soundtracks, lighting and the noise of machinery.

[Director’s Statement] I interviewed Van Leo inside his studio in 1998 while researching his work, without intending to make a video about him. Two weeks later he became very sick and stopped working, and was forced to relocate from the studio he had occupied for almost fifty years. I thought of finishing the piece when Van Leo won the prestigious Prince Claus award, after being nominated by the Arab Image Foundation in 1999. Van Leo was becoming known, and I had one of the very few documents showing him inside his studio.

I was attracted to two points that I considered challenging at the same time. The first was the fact that Van Leo was suspicious of any technological invention that facilitated the production of images. Cameras, video, and color photography reduce the role of the photographer, enabling everybody to take pictures, even videos. Also, Van Leo belonged to a tradition of perfecting lighting and framing, and giving the print itself tactile value through retouching. I wanted to juxtapose these two media, and make them communicate, and have Van Leo see the possibilities of video.

The second point was particular to the tradition of photographing female nudes, which was common among early twentieth-century photographers, possibly as an extension of an Orientalist tradition. Most photographers used unknown models which they portrayed nude. In Van Leo’s collection, I found one example that was completely different. Here is an Egyptian woman who came once into his studio in 1959 and asked him to photograph her in twelve different poses. As he was taking the photographs, the woman started to undress herself until she became completely naked. I wanted to address this unique example, and make it the center of the narrative.

- Akram Zaatari

Video artist and curator living and working in Beirut. Has created more than thirty videos, including The Candidate (1996), All Is Well on the Border, Crazy of You (1997), How I Love You (2001), This Day (2003) and three video installations titled The Desert Panorama, Another Resolution, and Monument # 5: The Scandal. Co-founder of the Arab Image Foundation (Beirut) through which he developed his recent research-based work on the photographic history of the Middle East. This was the basis for a series of exhibitions, including The Vehicle: Picturing Moments of Transition in a Modernizing Society, Portraits du Caire: Van Leo, Arman, Alban and Mapping and Sitting, on Portraiture and Photography. Writings published in critical and scholarly journals, including Parachute, Transition, Bomb, Al-Adaab and Zawaya.

• New Asian Currents | Sand and Water | Wellspring | Three-Five People | Homesick | The Circle’s Corner | The Maze of Lanes | Nee Engey—Where Are You | NEW (IMPROVED) DELHI—Director’s Cut | A Night of Prophecy | 150 Seconds Ago | The Ballad of Life | Noah’s Ark | The Old Man of Hara | Dandelion | Hibakusha—At the End of the World | 3rd Vol.2—2 Light House | And Thereafter | Dust Buries Sabuk | Family Project: House of a Father | Edit | Gina Kim’s Video Diary | Ordo | Her and Him Van Leo | The Big Durian | Perpetual Motion | Debris | Hard Good Life | Nail | The Rhythm in Wulu Village | A Short Journey • Jurors | Kim Dong-won | Kawase Naomi • New Asian Currents Special | Part 1 | Part 2