Growing up, I was always told that “everything happens for a reason”.
I was led to believe this was in fact true through a series of events in my life.
I had just started my Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the American University of Beirut when I first stumbled upon Mohamad Abdouni’s Instagram page (@texting_bitches). I had previously seen his short movie advertisement for Farfetch and was eager to discover more of his out of the box content. After spending hours analyzing his art, I was completely drawn to his state of mind and the way he showcased it to the world AKA the Instagram community. Months after following his account, I got the opportunity to meet the man behind my favorite posts and I could not help but seize it. I attended a portrait session he had advertised through his story, and I was happy to see my intuition was right. He was not only a great photographer, but a great human as well. His passion for his job was uncanny and it was strong enough to make me realize I was in the wrong field of studies.
Today, I decided to interview Mohamad, the man whose work made me understand the influence of art on people and helped make the switch from studying Business to studying Creative Direction, a major where I hope to develop the same skills he already possesses.
We conducted the meeting over Zoom where after we got familiar with each other’s lives, I asked him some more specific questions.
Q: Could you describe to me what you do for a living?
A: I think that is extremely broad. Not just for me I think but for everyone in a similar field. You kind of have to do a million things at once. The first thing I would say is that I am a documentary photographer and filmmaker. I try to explore marginalized communities as much as possible, especially queer communities in South West Asia and North Africa. What the west calls the Middle East; I do that through photo series, films and through different artistic practices. But this of course does not pay the bills. What I do to pay the bills is that I am a fashion photographer and I work with brands such as Burberry and Gucci. I work with publications like Vogue, Dazed, L’Officiel… So that is what kind of makes the money. I am also editor-in-chief of a queer photo journal based in Beirut called “Cold Cuts”, and I teach image and fashion communication to university students. That’s basically what I do in a nutshell.
Q: As a documentary photographer that explores specific communities through his works, what is the main message you try to communicate through your pictures?
A: I am not entirely sure there is one overruling message. When I am working on a project most of the time I don’t really have a message in mind. I simply venture into a project because I find a subject, community or a couple spectacular or fascinating and basically what I do is I share these people’s uniqueness with the world. That is what drives me to do what I do.
Q: What is the public’s reaction to your art?
A: Some like it, some don’t but most importantly I make sure that none of it affects what I do and how I do it.
Q: Did you ever feel threatened because of your art?
A: Of course. That’s very normal in the line of shit that I do.
Q: Do you feel like your art helped with LGBTQ acceptance in Beirut?
A: Every little thing that anyone does helps. Whether it’s some other artist in Lebanon that has dealt with this subject, NGOs that have taken this responsibility on their shoulders, a writer who decides to write a piece on this subject, book, short novel, or poem or whether it’s a filmmaker or photographer. Every little bit helps. It helps make our community more visible and could help people within our community that may be much younger and may have a harder time accepting themselves.
Q: I loved to see that you were able to plan an event for Cold Cuts at B018, one of Lebanon’s most popular nightclubs. Could you tell me more about the event and the reactions it led to?
A: It was a great night. BO18 came to us and wanted to collaborate with us on a party they would throw for the queer community to come and have a blast, without fearing other peoples’ judgements. We had drag and queer performances from Beirut and Paris. Funnily enough I did not get any negative backlash concerning the event. It was a lot of fun.
Q: Do you have a message you’d like to send to aspiring photographers in Beirut that might feel helpless sometimes?
A: I can’t help with the feeling of helplessness because I still struggle with it at times. I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of it. But if I were to say one thing, it would be: Never leave the house without your camera. I do, and I regret it more often than not. Good photos happen when you don’t have it on you.