Close Up: A Visual Exploration of Youth In Lebanon's Capital
Beirut Youth, is a visual exploration and documentation by artist Gogy Esparza and Jey Perie capturing the Lebanon capital’s younger generation. With the simple, initial intention to discover local youth culture and disregarding any typical narratives, what they would discover would profoundly change their perspective about the city, refugees, religion, the social and cultural global influences, and similarities and dissimilarities between both as documentation in awareness and understanding of a global audience. Through the 4 videos below and a series of 35mm photographs shot by Esparza, collaborator Jey Perie recounts his story below:
Jey Perie: I’ve always had a fascination for Beyrouth (sic: French), long before I even first step foot in this incredible city. It’s hard to explain why, it’s almost mystic. It was for me more than a location on the map, it was a feeling, an idea seeded into my world throughout the 80’s and 90’s. In french common language Beyrouth was synonymous with chaos. When the name of a town is used 2,000 miles away to describe how messy a room is, or how chaotic a neighbourhood can be, one can only imagine how bad the situation was in downtown Beyrouth in the early 80’s.
It’s only later in my life, when I started traveling and found myself living in Hong Kong that my perspective on Lebanon’s capital start shifting. I recall very clearly a conversation with a gentleman who I had just met at that time. He was 15 years older than me and had lived his life to the fullest, an international bon vivant like I rarely encountered, and a sharp professional as well. I asked him to name the city he founded the most vibrant and interesting to travel to and without hesitation he named Beirut as the single most fascinating town he had experience the last few years. We were then in 2007, the idea of Beirut in my mind had just gotten a new shape. Chaos yes! Creative Chaos.
Fast forward to 2016. I am now living in New York City, 15 years deep into a long journey that started when I left my native South of France and moved to Barcelona, Spain. The world is a different place now. Much smaller if you look at it through the lens of the Western culture. The web got us all connected. Information and trends travel faster, but reality remains a tangible feeling that can’t hardly be shared through social media. Our hyperconnected world contrast with the reality of more than 3 billion souls. It’s to me like looking at a satellite view of our planet at night, where megapolis of our western world are glowing through the darkness clearly marking the symbolic borders of our civilisation while the rest of the world is LIVING in the shadow.
After more than a decade traveling to all of our Western capitals, studying youth cultures and trends, meeting the lovely members of the creative traveling tribe, I hit a wall. I was clearly, unchallenged, uninspired and unsatisfied. This lack of outside stimulation started to affect my job and forced me to refocus my mission to what I do best (or enjoy best at least); introducing new things to my community.
Since nothing was new under the beaming light of our civilisation, it was time for me to step into the shadow and start exploring a world I know little about. I wanted to go somewhere I’ve never been before. A place where none of my close friends knew and where I was sure to be slapped in the face by the complexity of a new reality. I wanted this journey to be more than a personal experience that’s why I decided to treat it as a work project and avoid at all cost ending up laying down on a beautiful beach near a town I can’t pronounce, there are a lot of these in the shadow.
When it was time to chose a place to explore, it was an obvious decision to make. The people who know me well have all heard me talk about my fascination for Beirut. It was now time to break the glass separating fascination and reality. It had to be Beirut.
How a city with such a conflicted past had become a regional capital for nightlife and entertainment?
How a city one third the size of Paris can be as religiously diverse in a part of the world were segregation is the norm?
How is it to be a young man or a young women in Beirut in 2017?
The latter was really the question that mainly motivated my trip to the Middle East. I have been studying youth culture my entire professional life and it was time for me to step outside the usual routes and study the youth living in the Umma*, which is for us in the West the darkest place within the Shadow.
I’ve done most of my work-related travels alone the past decade, I tend to like it this way, it allows me to move faster and meet more people. But also enable me to look at things from a distance, alone in a hotel or at the airport, I tend to see things clearer.
For this project, I needed a partner. A like-minded brother who could trust me enough to step deep into the shadow with me without a question. Asking my friend Gogy Esparza to join me in this adventure was as obvious as choosing Beirut as a destination.
Gogy is an amazing New York-based artist who has been capturing the raw edges of life in the city since he moved here more than 10 years ago. He didn’t know much about Lebanon before he agreed to join me on this project. As an admirer of his aesthetic and the way he sees beauty in the city, I knew that bringing him to Beirut will create something special. He will see things I don’t, or in a different way at least.
On August 26th of 2016, Gogy Esparza and I landed at Rafik Hariri International airport in Beirut for what has now become one of the most powerful experiences of our adult lives.
We are now in November 2017, Gogy and I are here in Tokyo preparing our show scheduled to open on 11/9 at the Adidas Originals Store in Harajuku. Our time spent in Lebanon documenting the lives of young Beruti changed us deeply, it’s now time to share this experience with our community.