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Hashem el Madani’s portrait of Najm (left) and Asmar (right), in Saida, Lebanon. Photo: the Arab Image Foundation

Hashem El Madani (1928–2017)

Hashem El Madani, known for his portrait photography of Lebanese citizens from the mid- to late twentieth century, has died. The Arab Image Foundation, founded by artist Akram Zaatari, confirmed his death on Tuesday. The cause of his passing is still unknown, Alex Greenberger of Artnews reports.

At twenty years old, Madani established what he called a “Shehrazade,” where he photographed men, women, and children in Saida, Lebanon. He created an open studio where anyone could walk in and pose however they’d like in front of a simple backdrop. Madani captured candid photos of same-sex couples kissing, newlyweds, and the people of Saida enacting theatrical scenes that reflected the cultural and political shifts of Lebanon at the time. Despite the destruction of his studio from a bomb blast in 1982, the artist continued documenting the people of Saida. According to Madani, he took photos of about 90 percent of Saida’s inhabitants.

In 1999, the Arab Image Foundation, an organization dedicated to the preservation of pictures related to Arab culture, began archiving Madani’s work. Zaatari has exhibited the photographer’s prints at Tate Modern and the Photographers’ Gallery in London. Madani’s photos were also featured in the New Museum’s 2014 exhibition on Middle Eastern contemporary art, “Here and Elsewhere.”

“His work told stories of time lost, voices unheard, and the unknown histories of Saida,” Sfeir-Semler Gallery, which represents Zaatari, said of Madani in a statement. “Each photograph in his immense archive showed his kindness, humor, and humanity. He will be greatly missed.”

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