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Beirut, One Year On
Beirut, One Year OnPhotography by Yasmina Hilal

A Portrait of Beirut: A Year on From the Explosion

365 days after the Beirut blast, 11 photographers based in the Lebanese capital share an image that captures the spirit of the city

Lead ImageBeirut, One Year OnPhotography by Yasmina Hilal

On this day in 2020, at 6pm local time, 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut’s port exploded, leaving 218 dead, 7,500 injured, 300,000 people homeless, and causing billions in property damage. Now understood to be one of the most powerful non-nuclear explosions in history, the seismic blast was so immense it was felt in Turkey, Syria, Israel, Palestine, and was even heard in Cyprus, more than 240 kilometres away.

Bringing an already fragile Lebanon to its knees, the 12 months since the catastrophic accident have seen the country’s troubles deepen – with the investigation into the blast left by the wayside, and grave political turbulence and a devastating economic collapse leading to nationwide protests, all amid a global pandemic. 

As Lebanon’s people slowly begin to pick up the pieces, 11 photographers based in the city each share an image that they feel captures the spirit of Beirut, alongside their personal reflections on this moment in history. A reminder of the city’s vibrant cultural heart and vivid humanity, together these photographs represent a moving meditation on loss and grief, hope and renewal, and the power of community.

Yasmina Hilal (lead image)

“Sara Egavian, who was severely injured from the blast, sits with her rescue dog Matteo. Matteo also recently donated blood to save another dog in need.” – Yasmina Hilal

“The doctors kept on saying that I survived miraculously, and that the pieces of glass chose the least harmful spots. It was all a matter of luck.” – Sara Egavian

Tamara Saadé

“Similar to most of planet Earth the past year, small walks around my neighborhood were my only escape from my home turned office turned confinement space. This picture was taken in November 2020, during one of Lebanon’s numerous lockdowns. A few months after the August 4 blast, in the midst of an economic crisis that only got worse, time stood still in Beirut. In Lebanon. But the world wasn’t on pause. The world kept spinning, yet Lebanon froze. The eerie empty streets were peaceful and scary at the same time. A chilling breeze blew through Beirut and took with it our hopes of a normal life.”

Walid Nehme

“On spatial loss, its boundaries, influence and impact on identity – Beirut 2020.”

Aly Saab

“I chose to recreate The Lovers II by René Magritte because the spirit of Beirut is deeply complex and layered, embracing it is not easy. To do so, one must see through the many veils and get to know the core of the city.”

Mayssa Khoury

“This image is very dear to me since it captures what my life has been about this difficult year living with my grandmother and grandfather, watching close ones taking care of each other like it’s all we have left.”

Manu Ferneini

“This photograph was taken a month after the explosion that ravaged the city on August 4, when another fire erupted at the Port of Beirut. Unless we replace the wall entirely, unless we constructively address the crack in the system, preventable catastrophes will resurface again and again and reinforce the fatalistic belief that the Lebanese are doomed, that we have no control over a system which is, at its core, unsound.”

Paul Gorra

“Still burning.”

Nader Bahsoun

“How is it that the soul thrives in the dying body?”

Areej Mahmoud

“Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of destruction. My eyes wander through the rubble. The entire port is a uniform texture of twisted metal and dust. People step into my view to see with their eyes the event that has changed their life, and everyone’s life. I lift my camera up to my chest and snap a few rolls. No photograph will ever capture how this feels, I think.”

Myriam Boulos

“During the first days of the revolution, the proximity between the bodies and skins fascinated me. It was the first time that we were together in the streets. It was the first time that we claimed our places, our city, our country, together.“

Mohamad Abdouni

“I’d never be able to capture the spirit of Beirut in one image, the city has held a multitude of contradictory feelings over the years and my sentiment towards home has taken different shapes at every turn. Being away for the past year, the thought of Beirut seemed to always bring about a longing for the familiar, my familiar. My friends, my car, my roads, and the feeling of not being entirely alone in this world.”