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Beirut Express

Memories flood back in my old campus’ empty classroom at the American University of Beirut.

The Charles W. Halston Students Centre at AUB, designed as a smoke-free area in the campus, is practically unheard of in all of Beirut - much like banning smoking in a bar in Paris. 

One of the best baklawa shops down the corniche area of ROUCHE, Beirut. 

Military presence around all corners of Lebanon is second nature. 

DE PRAGUE is one of the fairly new bohemian haunts in Hamra frequented by AUB students and faculty, hosting independent film nights and gigs.

Lebanon has by far the largest proportion of Christians of any Arab country with approximately 40% Christians and 59% Muslims.

Summer weddings happen by the dozen everyday - while a Christian wedding was about to begin, two steps down, a Muslim bride was just walking out of her own. 

SAIFI VILLAGE, an artsy commercial residential area in central Beirut featuring modern French (Lebanon previously being a French colony) and Spanish architecture, hosts the boutiques of product designer NADA DEBS and other local designers and artists’ galleries. 

The juxtaposition of the old and new that is quintessentially Beirut can best be seen in its architecture. Several old buildings in Beirut, including these in the popular pubbing and lounging area of Gemayzeh, are still covered in bullet holes from the war. 

Taking parts and making fake duplicates is a popular ‘pastime’ in the outskirts of Beirut. You can get yourself a good deal on certain car parts..

Practically anything and everything in Beirut can be delivered to your doorstep. Here’s a place that delivers Sheesha or ‘Argileh’, including a change of coal, for less than $5.00.

One of the most famous sandwich shops in the American University of Beirut’s neighborhood of Hamra, ABOU AFIF SANDWICHES, has become a favourite stop for all students and alumni. Call it serendipity but I managed to bump into the older brother of architect ZAHA HADID (Hadid is a fellow AUB alumni) while waiting for my order.

Photography LUMA BASHMI



With Your Back Against The Wall

Until recently, political logos daubed on Beirut’s walls hinted at the political and civil strife in the region. TALA SALEH has documented these guerrilla icons in her book ‘Marking Beirut’, and we met her last week to talk about it.

How long has graffiti been around the city?

Well, I didn’t actually notice it until I started the project but I think the political graffiti has been around since the civil war, maybe 30 or 35 years ago. I only noticed it when I started my research in 2006, but there are lots of types of graffiti, not just political logos.

Where did you get the idea for the project?

I like graffiti in general, kind of like an infatuation if you want to say that, with graffiti all over the world. None of us knew what was around, we weren’t sure whether we’d find something or not. I guess it just grew.

Are there any other books like this?

In Lebanon, no. There is another book made in the 70s, called the War on Graffiti, which documents the first years of the civil war. There have also been a few online magazines, that look at murals and street art too.

Is it correct that you’re concentrating mainly on an older wave of graffiti?

Actually, yeah when I started off I concentrated on the political graffiti from the war. When I was putting it altogether around 2007-2008, I started looking at street art too, which was still quite new. So I added a section on street art, and the artists involved in that.

Is there a common theme to the graffiti that appears around the city?

Politics. Even the more recent street art speaks of the socio-political situation at the time. Whether it be instability, peace and unity, it all revolves around the same thing.

Who makes the graffiti? Are they political groups?

The logos are anonymous. They’ve been designed by artists within the political parties, but who sprays them? I think just followers. But with street art, they tag themselves, the same as anywhere else. What’s interesting though is that they have their own specific territories for their street art. Whether they were born and raised in South Beirut, East or West Beirut, they’re not allowed to trespass over other peoples’ territories.

So it’s not like it’s used as a medium for turf war, then?

It’s more like it’s just used to show people where they’re located, and where they are. They have their own turf, or space, and for other artists to paint there, they need to ask permission, or else it becomes a competition almost.

Did you have an opportunity to meet the artists?

I met three or four of the artists: there’s a group called Ashuk Man, which means exhaust pipe in Arabic, who are graphic design graduates from LAU. They’ve done a lot of work using Arabic typography as graffiti. Some of them came to my book signing and pinpointed their work out to me.

How would you say this kind of work is different to someone like Banksy?

The graffiti is different in the sense that it’s more serious. It’s made by government factions that are very active in the community, whereas Banksy makes comments on comments on everyday life of the British, or the state of the world. In Beirut it’s a bit more official. The street art though is just like any other street art, where they just comment on how they feel, or paint whatever they feel like painting.

Would you say the book was internationally accessible? The political situation in Lebanon is very difficult to understand…

Yeah, it is. The book includes 16 articles, including the introduction written in a journalistic kind of style. And there’s no real front or back either; you can start anywhere and it will give you a brief background. The book only tries to tell you what was going on at the time the graffiti was made. It’s hard to keep up with the politics there, because it changes every day, you know?

Would you say being Saudi has given you a more objective view?

I would say that it helped me remove myself. I wasn’t born into the situation, it wasn’t a part of my everyday life as a child. The war holds a place for me, obviously, but it’s not as nostalgic as for the Lebanese. Being Saudi meant I could lift myself out, but as a designer I have an opinion, if not about the war then about the graffiti, so I don’t know if I was really objective.

How has the nature of the graffiti changed?

Now, a lot of the logos have been painted over. The walls have been painted white. You also see street art where you didn’t before; where the conflict was political. The emergence of street art has changed it from political to social, and the street artists aren’t afraid anymore.

What’s the reception been to the book in Lebanon?

My distributors are Lebanese, and in the first meeting some were overwhelmed, some were reminded of the war, a lot were ashamed because they never thought of documenting their political graffiti. From the feedback so far, a lot were excited to see a book where their truth is exposed. You don’t really see the extent of the political situation until it’s graphically placed in front of you, which is what I did. I mean, I’m not banned from the country, so I think I’m ok.

Was this part of a uni project then?

It was my final project, and my course was five years. The original version was much simpler, where I made a mini flip-book divided. From there I modified it into the layout of a book. It was put together randomly from my archive of over 2000 photos taken between 2005 and 2009, and I chose 200.

My publisher guided my through the process of making a book, and how a book is successful through layout and imagery, but the design and aesthetics I did myself. I had to divide myself into like, ten different people! It was really hard in the beginning and I gave up, maybe four times.

So you’ve just moved to London, what’s next?

Well I start my course on Monday [an MA in graphic design]. I’d also like to start my own design firm somewhere in the Middle East, not necessarily Saudi, but somewhere. I’m taking it from here; I need new inspirations, so London’s my city now. 

Text/Interview: SIOBHAN LEDDY




A French Photographer in Palestine

As an outsider looking in, it can sometimes be difficult to understand the complexities of the Palestinian situation. JULIEN BONNIN is a French photographer who, in an attempt to learn more, joined an NGO group of nine writers and journalists to the region. We met in Shoreditch to talk about his resulting photographs.

So what are you doing in London at the moment?

At the moment I’m doing the first year of my BA in photography, at LCC. It’s cool, but at first I just came to work. I had a hard time finding an assistant job in a studio.

What made you decide on London?

I spent three years in Paris already doing photography, and I tried school and freelance and small jobs, but I just couldn’t stand it anymore. My friend was moving to London to do a summer school in fashion. And I decided to follow her. Give it a chance. I love the place, and the people and opportunities.

You’ve only just started studying! Are you self-taught?

Yeah. I’ve been practicing for five years, and I really wanted to learn it myself. I’d already been in biology school for five years. I really found it, well, not boring, it just wasn’t my place. Maybe it was just the French system, but yeah, I was bored with university. I wanted to keep photography more personal.

I went to Palestine last year, and I was really just by myself in the group. It was a very good experience, and I really hoped to keep it personal. I think I need a little bit more training though, so going back to school was a very good decision.

How did your work in Palestine come about?

It all started with a friend of mine who’s studying politics in Paris. We already were interested in the Palestinian cause, but we just follow magazines and things. We met a girl who had just come back from Palestine and was really involved in it: demonstrations and everything. She proposed to write an article about Palestinian demonstrations and the wall, and she proposed that writers go there to learn more about the difficult situation there. I went to her and I was like “OK, I’m taking pictures, and I’m not a very good photo reporter yet, but I’m taking good pictures and I’m really interested.” In one week, we booked the plane.

It was cool, but so hard at the same time. We met a lot of people and understood what was going on a bit more there. You can’t really get anything from newspapers and magazines. I was shocked, but it really helped me move forward in my pictures.

How did it compare to what you expected it to be?

I expected it to be more rough, and bloody. Like some kind of caricature, or war zone. But people have a lot of hopes; it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they want to go forward and fight for their liberty, hopes, homes, everything. They don’t want pity, they are fighting!

A Jerusalem resident standing on the rubble of his two-storey house after its destruction. Israel has prohibited its repair and restoration.

Do you think being an outsider helps you to see things objectively?

I don’t know. Even if I had my own opinions, I tried to bury them. Bury my previous expectations. I was like a virgin there! Tried to get the most I can from it, every day I was learning new things. I kept a diary, and every day I started a blank page and tried to go from there. I hope my opinions haven’t biased my report…much. But as I say, I was shocked every day.

What is it like being a photographer there?

When you move on the ground with your eyes, and when you look for anything to capture with your camera, it’s a very different way of looking and grasping a situation. Sometimes the group was very separate, and the writers went to another place and I felt quite apart. But I wanted to be alone for the experience.

The Palestinian children were very happy to have their picture taken, but [the adults] wondered what I wanted. This was their fight, and I was just a foreigner coming from abroad. They thought I could never understand.

I’m planning on going again in four or five months, with more writers. And maybe a new approach for the report. I also want to take twice as many pictures, and maybe stay there three of four months this time.

What would you like your photographs of Palestine to be used for?

I’d like them to be used for photojournalism magazines if possible, or maybe newspapers. I’d like an exhibition for the people; I think most people aren’t really aware of what’s going on there, even if they read the newspapers. I’d also quite like to make a short documentary to go with the photographs.

But really, I’d like the photographs to be used as an extension of what I felt there: this is my skin, this is everything I experienced. I’d like to smash people’s minds with photographs; I would be happy with that.

Text/Interview: SIOBHAN LEDDY

Photographs: JULIEN BONNIN



Interview with Photographer Alexander James

Alexander James has recently relocated from Australia to the UK and has been shooting for over twenty years as a commercial advertising and fine art photographer with past clients including Samsung, Versace, Shangri-la, and Ermenegildo Zegna to name a few.

He has had his work featured in Qvest Magazine, Creative Review, Designscene, Design Week and Schon Magazine.

What is interesting about Alexander’s photography is it is always presented ‘as shot’ without cropping and post production. In his work he has featured a lot of beautiful landscape pictures and also photography which captures certain random themes. A particular Sketchbook favourite is his photography of taxi signs at night in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were all shot hand held on medium format and the images illustrate Alexander’s fascination with the urban energy of taxis at night.

Can you remember the first time you picked up a camera and have you always been interested in photography?

I can go one better than that - here I am aged four and a half, with yes you guessed it a pink camera. All through my teenage years I was messing with camera’s wondering why I could not take a decent shot until i became a dive photographer in the Caribbean - film is so unforgiving when you haven’t got a clue……

You recently relocated from Australia to the UK. Where was it you grew up? And what drew you to move to the UK?

I am a Londoner originally, but I moved away over ten years ago - spending time living in New York, Tokyo, Paris and Sydney, Australia. I got back to London just over a year ago - and I can honestly say I am thrilled to be back. There is such an earnest willing to collaborate in London which is hard to find anywhere else in the world right now.

Where do you find inspiration in everyday life?

One of my biggest sources of inspiration is to simply stop what you are doing, take a deep breath and look around. It is amazing what you can find as a complete surprise even in the most familiar of spaces. I am always trying to spend my time interpreting what most people simply walk right on by without ever noticing.

I particularly loved the pictures from your portfolio ‘Taxi’,what is it about taxi’s in Tokyo and Shanghai which interest you? And would you like to get images of taxi signs from other areas of the world?

I have shot this series in virtually every city I have ever been to, but Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo just do it for me. There is such an explosion of light interaction between the neons of the city and the reflective surface of the taxi, all focussed around their own illuminated piece.

You explore some pretty interesting environments in your pictures, such as a lot of landscape pictures and shots from the underground. How do you like to display everyday in your own unique way of photography?

Most of my landscape work is un-choreographed and I rarely take more than one shot of each subject, which on transparency film can be quite scary - but I find it is the best way to get an immediate response to a scene - then quietly moving on to the next.

You have completed work with various clients and different forms of editorial work. What type of photography interests you most?

Right now I am re-starting my fashion interests, we have some very fixed ideas of what we want to shoot right now and there are some amazing concepts and this can only be undertaken with a profound technical imagination. I am just itching to get onto it, I am so lucky to have such an amazing team.

A lot of your work you say you present ‘as shot’ without any post production. This is a particularly interesting aspect to your work as a lot of photography nowadays tends to rely on the editing of pictures. Do you feel this creates a more personal aspect to your photographs and do you not believe in editing photographs once they are taken?

All of my commercial work is exposed to all manner of post work from CGI to your usual photoshop editing. With my personal work I believe in presenting only what I captured originally. With that in mind all of my personal works without exception are always presented ‘as shot’ without cropping or post production of any kind. I see the process as cathartic rather than a critical one, and this dedication to ‘in-camera’ purity establishes a predominant focal point for my practice. It can play havoc with things but it can also provide a very fluid feel to my work which acts like a chameleon allowing me to interpret a scene in any style that I happen to find there.

What has been the greatest highlight of your career so far?

Tomorrow, no sense sitting around talking about your laurels - I believe my next shoot will always better the last - its been that way for over 20 years now and I am stunned at what we are capable of producing these days - it’s just getting better and better….

What projects are you currently working on?

We are pushing ahead with the Water Parkour series, we have a couple of highly stylized fashion shoots on right now and we are shooting a beautiful series for a charitable christian group - remaking scenes from the old testament. The most amazing part of my life’s work is that I never know what’s around the corner - fantastic.

What do you hope to achieve in 2010 and where would you love to see your work featured next?

I really want my work to be seen by some of the institutional curators, I have never sought any institutional critical review before but I have been thinking about it a lot recently so I must act on that. Perhaps the reason I haven’t before is that they might not get it, that’s ok I guess. But I should face up to that possibility and get on with it.

Text: Russell Arkinstall

Photography: Alexander James



5 Minutes with Photographer CJ Clarke

Photographer CJ CLARKE recently visited the village of Tabakro in Southern Mali for Christian Aid looking at the affects of climate change. While there he met some of the villagers where he saw and captured their lifestyle on camera. We had spoke to him yesterday to find out what he’d been up to over there, as well as telling us about the amazing colours of Mali, the torrential rain and been presented with a white, feathered chicken. 

Where were you?

The photographs were taken in the village of Tabakro in southern Mali. The village is quite small consisting of mud-walled houses. We were welcomed into the village with women singing and dancing and presented with a chicken, white feathered and red headed. With the help of national and international NGO’s the village has been able to install solar panels allowing them to install electric light in the school, which, in turn, allows women to study during the evening: this has a tremendous impact on the social dynamic of the village. Investing in women can help facilitate real social change. 

How many places did you visit in Africa? 

For this trip I only visited Mali. Within the country I travelled extensively, first taking a small plane to the north of the country; before traveling south by road. 

What caught your eye? 

When you are traveling everything catches your eye; everything that is exciting and different but also those mundane things. For instance, I bought two brightly coloured kettles;  bright swells of plastic colour these kettles were ubiquitous and as such remind me very much of Mali. It is interesting that such an everyday item could be so vivid; everything was colourful the mans tailored shirts and the women’s clothes. Just fantastic.  

What was your experience there like? 

Welcoming and friendly, is it a great experience to travel in Mali. Extremely warm but, when it rains, it rains. Traveling down at dirt track, through hollows of water our 4x4 skidded off the road. But no harm was done. Through the Dogon region we briefly visited pygmy dwellings carved out of the rock, several thousand years old. Quite something!



Our first issue is out NOW!

Sketchbook magazine is here! After much anticipation, the London-based independent quarterly magazine showcasing fresh, individual and burgeoning creative talents in fashion, design and culture around the globe celebrates the launch of its first edition: The Fashion Blogger Issue. ‘I blog therefore I am’. In this digital age, fashion blogging has blossomed into a cultural phenomenon and become a way of life for both fashion journalists and fashion fans alike.

You can now purchase parts 1 & 2 of the FASHION BLOGGER ISSUE here:

In an ever changing market of magazine and Internet fashion culture, Sketchbook Magazine brings something a little different. Original Sketchbook drawings and graphics and exclusive interviews celebrating unearthed talent and artists at the forefront of their careers, Sketchbook looks to the creative mind that wants to explore, expand and discover something new from a portfolio of fashion, art and culture.

Here are some excerpts from the first issue:

Interview with cover girl Susie Bubble by MARIAM AL BANNA / Illustrations JUNE CHANPOOMIDOLE

Vogue Diaries Feature by Fashion Editor KRISTIN KNOX / Illustrations JADE CUMMINGS

In the Name of Fashion / Photography ALBERTO NEWTON

Area Dansk / Photography LOUISE DAMGAARD


Notes by Naive / Illustrations FLORA ROGERS


Fashion Toast’s RUMI NEELY / Illustrations CLARE OWEN

A Shaded View on Fashion’s DIANE PERNET / Illustrations ANNIE DRISCOLL

SCOTT SCHUMAN’S The Sartorialist / Illustrations MATILDA HUANG

Thanks for all your support! Hope you enjoy reading your copy.
Best wishes,



Wwoofing in Brisighella, Italy

On an organic vineyard in Brisighella, Italy during a Wwoofing trip. WWOOF (Worldwide opportunities on Organic Farms) connects people who want to volunteer on organic farms and farmers who need help.

Photography SAM WOLSON



Havana, Cuba

Coming back from the market in Old Havana.

"Hey I can plait your hair…15 CUC.. come back!" Havana side streets. 

Two friends contemplating diving off the Malecon.

Another day of fishing.. technically illegal but one of the biggest pastimes.

A blind man and his sisters make an extra income by posing for photos.

Little boy stretching whilst having breakfast outside his home.

Santa Maria beach, twenty minutes drive from Havana.

Local musicians practice in the sun.

Cuban kitchen, Vedado, downtown Havana. 

Teenage girls posing for me on the Malecon after they took my picture.

Umbrellas provide shelter from the sun and rain.

The best place to get fresh mango juice, the local market, closing at 1 pm. 

The calm after the storm.