The Distance Is Always Other Chris Coekin & Noel Nasr
The Distance Is Always Other, a collaborative project between Lebanese photographer Noel Nasr and British photographer Chris Coekin.
The project started with the appropriation and subsequent investigation of a photographic archive originally produced in 1973 by an elderly American couple, identified only as Bob and Ann, documenting their journey from Beirut to Baalbek. The couple used a basic stereo camera, which produces two images, one just slightly after the other, from the same viewpoint. The archive comprises vernacular images capturing the Lebanese landscape through various prisms—urban, domestic, exotic—revealing details of a country on the brink of civil war.
Coekin uncovered the archive online in 2016, and collaborated with Nasr to trace the footsteps of the couple, re-visiting the same locations photographed in 1973. Assuming the role of geographical investigators, Coekin and Nasr painstakingly pieced together the original route, attempting to photograph several destinations from the tourists’ identical perspective. Mimicking the structure of stereo camera film, the photographers overlaid two photographs of the same subject to form a single image.
This series responds to the original found archive by playing with the American couple’s aesthetically coded “tourist” images, unexpectedly produced at a time of simmering regional turmoil. Nasr and Coekin reinterpret the tropes of those snapshots, sacrificing angle and perspective to achieve, as closely as possible, images deliberately capturing the same locations as the originals. Through their process of experimentation, the photographer duo inadvertently expose the instability within the Lebanese landscape. They provide crucial evidence of the social, demographic and architectural changes caused by the lengthy civil war and subsequent reconstruction. These various layers of evolution are identifiable through the juxtaposition of archival and contemporary images.
Fadi Tofeili’s text foregrounds the interdisciplinary nature of this project, drawing parallels between the archive and the proliferation of Egyptian moving images in Lebanon during the 50s and 60s. Reza Abedini’s design echoes Coekin and Nasr’s forensic process: the design itself forms a visual essay incorporating a gamut of textures, transparencies and pictorial information, showcasing illustrations and notes taken by the photographers throughout their research. Abedini’s use of juxtaposition on a formal and conceptual level reinforces the idea of superimposition and duality in both the artists’ work and the photographic archive.
A custom-made stereoscopic viewer and reel accompany the book, recreating the experience of the original Viewmaster through which Bob and Ann’s archive would have been seen. The reel contains the seven images from the original archive. The book is sheathed in a box-cum-camera bag, complete with shoulder strap, alluding to the photographic journey, crowning what is intended to be an interactive and engaging experience.
Chris Coekin was born in Leicester and is now based in London. His work is predominantly concerned with contemporary British culture. His work is frequently based upon personal experiences and is often collaborative. He works mainly with photography and often combines, text, ephemera, audio and archival imagery within his projects.His work has been exhibited widely including shows at: The Photographers’ Gallery London, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Belfast Exposed, Foam Museum Amsterdam, People’s History Museum Manchester, Stephen Bulger Gallery Canada. He has had solo shows at the Lodz Festival Poland, the Orange Festival and the Dali International Photography Festival China.
Noel Nasr is a Lebanese photographer based in Beirut. His projects are mostly inspired from his daily life experiences and are often for therapeutic motives.His work was shown at Umam, Maqam Gallery, Sursock Museum and Beit Beirut. Noel holds an M.A. in Photography from the University of Kent and an M.F.A. in Photography from the University of Ulster. He is currently and Assistant professor and the coordinator of the Photography Program at Notre Dame University-Louaizé (NDU).
Fadi Tofeili is an author, poet and Lebanese translator. He is the co-founder and chief editor of Portal 9: Histories and Critics of the city (portal9journal.org). He studied interior design in the Lebanese University and got a master in American Studies from Amsterdam University. His writings were published in Lebanon since the 90s in different publications. He is the writer of three poetry books and of many translations into Arabic. His latest book, Iqtifa’ Athar, was published by Ashkal Alwan in 2014.