Une femme exhibit

  • Une Femme is an enigmatic and evocative exhibition in which the present and the past are interwoven in Jeroen Robert Kramer’s poetic photographs of Beirut.

    This exhibition should be read as if it were a story based
on Jeroen Robert Kramer’s novel Une Femme, a story that plays out against the backdrop of Beirut. The novel does not exist — yet — but it does have a form: a page of text is always coupled with a photograph. The texts are the ‘photos’, but take the form of diary-like fragments, real and fictional registrations of sounds and conversations, newspaper cuttings and advertisements. The photographs in this book are the illustrations: they show what is missing in the texts.

    The story revolves around the friendship between Monsieur Khiar, a handsome old Lebanese gentleman, and a photographer. Both of these characters have painful memories of a troubled past. The photographer meets Khiar at the end of the summer of 2010 in a bar in Mar Mikhaël, a popular night-life area of Beirut. As soon as he sees him the photographer wants to take pictures of him, but Khiar resolutely forbids it. The photographer excuses himself, but the meeting stays in his mind, and after searching for months the photographer finds Monsieur Khiar again. They agree that the photographer will not photograph Monsieur Khiar, but the world as Khiar sees it.

    Together they go on long walks through the city. During their meetings and conversations, the photographer takes photos of traffic lights changing colour, the planters that are put everywhere in Beirut, a landscape seen in cracks in a wall, a pile of sand in the street, a barber’s advertising poster, and shops stuffed with groceries. These are the photographs displayed in the exhibition; photographs that together form a story. They were made by Jeroen Robert Kramer, who shows striking similarities with the photographer in Une Femme.

  • The photographer is searching for beauty in ordinary life. He has had enough of grim spectacle — of the work he did when he was still working as a photographer of war for The New York Times — now he is searching for stillness. The interactions between these two central figures are evoked by photographs of their surroundings, marks on an abandoned drinks glass, or cats — the only creatures for which Khiar still feels any affection.

    By the end of the story their fragile friendship has gradually fallen apart. Khiar has been warned by his doctor to stop drinking, and he has made it ever clearer that he has no interest in being photographed. For the photographer, how- ever, their friendship has become an obsession. He starts photographing thousands of objects in Khiar’s house. This obsession, too, has been brought into in the exhibition for us to experience; it includes not only the photographs of parts of Khiar’s house, but also all kinds of objects taken from it — a light bulb, a shower head, a kitchen clock. Doubt begins to grow. Are these really Khiar’s things, or is the old gentle- man a composite, the photographer, or perhaps Jeroen Robert Kramer himself? And who is the Femme around which this story supposedly revolves?

    Ultimately, Une Femme shows that the answers to these questions are irrelevant. Une Femme is an enigmatic and evocative exhibition in which the present and the past are interwoven in Jeroen Robert Kramer’s photographs of Beirut.