Lebanese photographer focuses on remnants of Beirut blast in his 'Pieces' series

Lebanese photographer focuses on remnants of Beirut blast in his 'Pieces' series
'Hope 2,' Roger Moukarzel. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 August 2022

Lebanese photographer focuses on remnants of Beirut blast in his 'Pieces' series

Lebanese photographer focuses on remnants of Beirut blast in his 'Pieces' series
  • Two years on from the devastating port explosion, Roger Moukarzel’s series of images of found objects is a poignant reminder of what was lost 

PARIS: Over the course of his 35-year career, Lebanese photographer Roger Moukarzel has covered topics ranging from war and wild nature to fashion. He has photographed prominent politicians, artists, and celebrities from across the Arab world, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, Omar Sharif, Nadine Labaki, Elie Saab and Carlos Ghosn. But there was one day when he couldn’t bring himself to use his camera. 

On August 4, 2020, Beirut was rocked by a devastating twin explosion at its port, which killed more than 215 people, wounded several thousand others and left areas of the Lebanese capitals in ruins. Moukarzel himself was lucky to escape serious harm.



“I remember a lot of things from August 4. It’s not difficult to talk about it because I’m used to difficult scenes in my work,” Moukarzel tells Arab News ahead of the second anniversary of the blast, for which no one in authority has yet been held accountable. 

“My office was actually in front of the port. I left my office five minutes before the blast. My office was completely destroyed, and my house too,” Moukarzel continues.

Driving through Beirut to reach his injured children, the photographer was stunned by the unimaginable scale of damage inflicted upon his city. “It was surreal,” he says. “I decided not to take a single picture of what happened.” 

'Du Viviant,' Roger Moukarzel. (Supplied)

After ensuring his children were safe, Moukarzel joined the teams of volunteers out on the streets. He still wasn’t taking any pictures. Then, an idea came to him. “I could not (deny) that this happened. It happened. I had to express myself in some way,” he says.

Moukarzel began picking up random items off the streets that were most affected by the blast. They resemble lost remnants of war, touching lives of all ages: A piece of glass; a child’s pink shoe; a juice box; a cigarette packet with the warning ‘Smoking-Kills’ on it; the broken neck of a green bottle; a flower. 

Moukarzel photographed every dusty object separately against a white background. The result is a poignant series he calls “Pieces.” The pictures are clear and stark, powerful in their simplicity. The series has the feel of an anthropological study. Each item, handled with care, tells a story. 

'Dove 2,' Roger Moukarzel. (Supplied)

“I still think of every (piece) I shot,” Moukarzel says. “For me, it was an expression of what I felt from the blast. . . I still look at them and create stories in my mind. A picture isn’t about the medium. It’s about what it says to people.” 

While “Pieces” may be interpreted as indicative of loss and deterioration, Moukarzel views it more optimistically. 

“I didn’t want to do something related to one person. I didn’t want to shoot one family on the street. I didn’t choose to capitalize on the drama of the people. In my mind, I wanted to do something beautiful — positive not negative,” he says.

'Shattered 1,' Roger Moukarzel. (Supplied)

He also hopes his pictures will be displayed in an exhibition again, in remembrance of the victims, as they were in Paris in 2021. “It will be like a museum. The pieces and images of the pieces will be together. It’s my interpretation and what I want to keep for the next generation,” he says. “You know, the blast was a huge injustice. You cannot destroy a city and kill people like that and not know (how it happened).”  

Moukarzel is no stranger to witnessing trauma firsthand. He was just 15 years old when he had his big break by becoming a war photographer for the former French photo agency, Sygma (and later Reuters), covering armed conflicts in the Middle East. That early-life experience left an indelible mark on his psyche.

“War photography is a very delicate thing. Either you go crazy or you become a pacifist. It can (affect) your personality. I think I’m a better person. I don’t know… I became a big pacifist, because people who don’t do war, don’t know what war is. It creates more damage and doesn’t go anywhere,” he says. “Whoever wins a war, doesn’t win anything in the end. “

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’
Updated 59 min 37 sec ago

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’

Egypt's Mohammed Tarek is ‘on a roll’ as he lends his voice to Warner Bros.’ ‘DC League of Super-Pets’
  • The social media superstar has millions of followers, but still works his day job

DUBAI: It’s a strange life being a content creator. Take Egyptian social-media star Mohammed Tarek, for example. He’s a dentist by day — graduating earlier this year after six years of exhaustive study in Egypt — but in his free time he makes comedy videos, often talking directly to his phone. He puts on voices and does parodies from his bedroom, putting together whatever bits come to mind when he wakes up in the morning before work. By all accounts, he’s a humble, normal person who spends his time with his friends and family. But you’d never know it when he goes to the mall. There, he is a superstar, swarmed by fans. 

“I still remember the first time I got stopped back in 2016,” Tarek tells Arab News. “I was just walking with my sister in the mall, and this girl came up to me. She said, ‘Hey! I love your videos!’ I was like, ‘What? You actually watch my videos?’ She said, ‘Yeah, I would love to take a picture.’ I was stunned. I said, ‘No, I want to take a picture with you!’”

Getting stopped by strangers has become a regular occurrence for Mohammed Tarek. (Supplied)

Since then, getting stopped by strangers has become a regular occurrence for Tarek, who has won legions of fans across the region, amassing 4.3 million followers on TikTok, another 2.3 million on Instagram, and more than half a million on YouTube. He’s even caught the eye of the biggest movie studios in the world, recently getting the nod to voice Aquaman in the Arabic-dubbed version (reanimated so that the character’s mouths move properly with the spoken Arabic) of Warner Bros. summer animation blockbuster “DC League of Super-Pets” — a role played by New Zealand comedian Jermaine Clement in the English-language version. It was a call he never saw coming.

“It’s not the most random thing that’s ever happened in my life, but it’s pretty random,” he says. “The call I got to get the role was insane. I was sitting in uni, just minding my own business, and somebody just called me from this random number, right? I answered it, and they're like, ‘Hey, do you want to be Aquaman?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sounds good!’” 

Mohammed Tarek voices Aquaman (second from left) in the Arabic version of ‘DC League of Super-Pets.’ (Supplied)

Voice acting has always been one of Tarek’s dreams. He has amassed dozens of his own characters that poke fun at different Egyptian cultural archetypes. 

“I’ve always been a fan of voiceover work. Growing up, I found it crazy how people could put so many emotions across just through their voice. The animation is there, of course, to express something, but the voice is the main thing. The voice is what you remember. I would grow up watching Arabic-dubbed cartoons and movies, so being able to move into that world is really full circle for me, and I love it just as much as I thought I would,” says Tarek. 

Like most comedians, growing up, Tarek’s first audience was his family, using his personality to cheer them up in the darkest of times. 

“I’m the youngest, with two older sisters. I remember one day, my sister came home crying from school. She was really devastated. My father tried to calm her down, but nothing worked. I said to myself, ‘I need to fix this.’ So all I did was come up to her and crossed my eyes. I said, ‘Hey, look at me!’ She burst out laughing. I thought, ‘This is the thing I’m going to do from now on,’” says Tarek. 

Tarek was born in Saudi Arabia, moving to Egypt just as he entered his teens. There, he used comedy to fit in with his new classmates, who were very different from the ones that he had known and had initially intimidated him. His plan worked, and he even won over his teachers in the process.

After six years of exhaustive study, Tarek recently graduated from MSA University in Egypt. (Supplied)

“I used to write songs about my teachers, taking the melody of popular songs and rewriting the lyrics to suit each of them. The students would laugh, but the teachers would actually laugh with us too. I would stand on a podium in front of the class and they would sit behind me and loved it. My parody songs became a yearly ritual in our school,” he says. 

Tarek first moved into content creation in the early days of YouTube on the now-defunct short-video platform Vine. But he never really expected to find an audience beyond his own home.

“Each of my videos would have five views,” he says. “Four of them would be me, and the other view would be my mom.” 

But in 2016, Tarek made two covers that were similar in spirit to the ones he used to write about his teachers, taking popular songs by Adele and Hozier and singing new lyrics from the perspective of one of his Egyptian characters. He thought nothing of them — until the view count started to climb.

“I woke up one day and thought, ‘What is going on? Why do I have a 100,000 views?’ Then it was ‘Why do I have five million views? What is going on?’ That was the moment when people really started to respond to me,” says Tarek. 

As his star rose, he refused to abandon his plans and launch himself fully into content creation, deciding to stick in school and make videos when he found the time. It’s a choice he doesn’t regret, even now as he’s finally practicing dentistry, but it’s been more exhausting to balance than he usually admits to people.

“I have a lot of friends who are in the social-media area, and they’re exhausted from all they do. I have a lot of friends in the dentistry area, and they’re all burned out. None of them can really relate to what I go through. I’m tired from being a content creator and I’m tired from being a dentist every day. Who does that? Whenever I’m feeling low, it all just hits me. But right now, I’m doing fine,” he says with a smile. “Right now, I’m on a roll.” 

Tarek isn’t content with just social media and dentistry, either. The shift into acting with “DC League of Super-Pets” is one that Tarek is taking seriously, and one that he plans to pursue fully.

“Right now, I’m trying. I'm starting to take acting workshops, which is a huge step for me, because I would never have done that back in the day. Nobody believes it, but, naturally, I’m a really shy person. I was the timid, naïve guy sitting in the corner because I didn’t want to deal with people. A part of me doesn’t understand myself right now, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop,” says Tarek. 

“I have no idea where I’m going to be five years from now. I’m just going to keep going. If I get offered an audition, I’ll go. I’m going to take any opportunity that’s in front of me. You just have to work, you know what I mean? I truly believe that,” he says. “And I know that’s going to take me wherever I’m supposed to be.”

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
Updated 12 August 2022

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine

Award-winning Bahraini chef Tala Bashmi looks to reinvent Gulf cuisine
  • The chef patronne at Fusions by Tala trained in Switzerland at the Michelin-starred Prisma
  • She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best

TORONTO: For 33-year-old Tala Bashmi — chef patronne at Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama — modernizing Bahraini and Khaleeji cuisine feels like a “responsibility.” 

Bashmi grew up in Bahrain, and actually began her career at the Gulf Hotel, before heading to Switzerland to train at Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois and the Michelin-starred Prisma. 

Fusions by Tala in the Gulf Hotel, Manama. (Supplied)

She returned to Bahrain in 2014 and worked her way up through the ranks at the Gulf Hotel to eventually head Fusions by Tala, where she’s determined to reinvent Gulf cuisine. She was recently named Best Female Chef in the Middle East and North Africa by 50 Best.

“I always saw a gap for a different version of Middle Eastern and Khaleeji cuisine,” Bashmi tells Arab News. “I want to compete on a global scale by elevating our cuisine technically, visually, and flavor-wise,” she says. 

Here, Bashmi offers some advice and a delicious fish recipe to try at home.

Tala Bashmi's Seabream Carpaccio. (Supplied)

What’s your top tip for amateur cooks?
Don’t rush things. For the first two years of my career, I wasn’t even allowed to cook. It was purely preparation. I believe all young chefs should start that way and not jump the gun. When you rush things, you end up burning something. You (eventually) want to combine perfection and speed, but speed alone is not beneficial. 

Also, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife. A dull knife will slip and, most likely, cause injury. So, invest in a good quality knife and keep it sharp. 

What's one ingredient that can instantly improve any dish?
I can think of a few. There’s olive oil. And invest in good salt — not iodized table salt! Whenever I travel, I always get salt that’s local to the region. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the simplest local ingredients can elevate or transform a dish.

What is your favorite cuisine?
Currently, it's Korean. The entire experience of making your own Korean barbeque is fun. With its fermented and pickled elements, it relies heavily on the traditional umami taste, which I enjoy a lot.

What is your favorite dish to cook?
I really enjoy cooking seafood, especially when it's fresh from the market. I love clams. I make a type of curry that has clams and local crabs in it, which you leave to simmer on the stove. When you cook all day, every day, you want to make your meals quick and tasty. 

What’s the most difficult dish you prepare?
Desserts at the restaurant have a lot of elements and are relatively time-consuming. There is the cooking, chilling, setting, assembling, and layering. I’d say my lavender dessert — lavender sponge, blueberry jelly, white-chocolate mousse, and lemon crème brûlée — is the most difficult to prepare.

What are you like in the kitchen? Are you a disciplinary or are you more laid-back?
I was lucky enough to work under a second chef who showed me that you can be kind, gentle, and forgiving in this environment, without being disrespected. So, I follow his example. I don’t like to put people down because everyone learns differently. I want my team to feel happy, comfortable, and confident when they come into the kitchen. Patience and learning to deal with different personalities are important. 

RECIPE: Chef Tala’s pan-seared faskar with vine leaf risotto


90g Faskar fillet; salt; pepper; 30g butter; 3g thyme; turmeric (optional); 150g of Arborio rice; 20g onion (finely chopped); 70g vine leaves; 10g lime juice; 10g parmesan cheese; cooking oil; vegetable stock or water


Instructions (fish):

Pat your fillets to dry them. Season with salt, pepper, and turmeric (optional).

Heat a non-stick pan to almost smoking point. Add 2 tbsp of oil per fillet.

Place the fillet (skin side) with a weight on top.

Cook for one minute, until skin is golden-brown. 

Turn the heat to low, add thyme and 10g of butter. 

The residual heat will finish cooking the fish (time depends on thickness of fillets)


Instructions (risotto):

On low-medium heat, melt 10g butter in a pan, add onion, sauté until translucent. 

Stir rice into the mix.

And one ladle of veg stock (or water) at a time, making sure broth is fully absorbed.

Meanwhile, blanch the vine leaves in hot water for one minute or until softened. Finely chop.

Cook risotto for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. It should be al dente, but creamy.

Add remaining butter, cheese, vine leaves, salt, and lime juice. 

Serve hot.

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph
Updated 12 August 2022

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph

REVIEW: Netflix’s ‘The Sandman’ adaptation is a long-awaited triumph
  • Comic-book series finally gets the TV treatment it deserves after escaping development hell

LONDON: For decades, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” epic has been one of the go-to examples of why comic books should be acknowledged as much, much more than outlandish adventures starring superheroes bedecked in garish spandex. 

Despite this (or perhaps because of it), bringing the sprawling saga to the screen — big or small — has been a tortuous process, with countless iterations promising much before, inevitably, falling by the wayside.

Tom Sturridge as The Sandman. (Supplied)

So Netflix deserves some credit for the mere existence of “The Sandman” — a 10-part series developed by Gaiman, David S Goyer and Allan Heinberg and starring British actor Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, the lord of dreams and nightmares. When Morpheus is captured by an occultist and held prisoner for more than 100 years, his kingdom (the Dreaming) falls into ruin, with the balance between dreams and nightmares lost, and rogue entities blurring the lines between the waking world and the fantastical nature of human imagination. After escaping, Morpheus must regain his throne and restore the balance before irreversible damage is done.

“The Sandman” boasts an incredible ensemble cast, with star turns across the board. Jenna Coleman, Stephen Fry, Charles Dance, Patton Oswald, Joely Richardson and Boyd Holbrook are particularly enjoyable, while David Thewlis puts in a staggeringly unsettling performance as one of the many threats Morpheus must prevent from rending the human world asunder.

Tom Sturridge as Morpheus and Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in ‘The Sandman.’ (Supplied)

Props, too, to Sturridge for not buckling under the weight of such a momentous character — one beloved by decades of readers. While his performance, at times, relies on such intense whispering as to almost be shouting, Sturridge makes Morpheus a believably fallible protagonist, and a charismatic guide through Gaiman’s fantastically vivid world.

“The Sandman” is many things — fantastical, dark, malevolent, violent, shocking, horrifying and heartwarming — and often several of those at the same time. Weaving such a fanciful tapestry is no mean task, especially in a genre about to get a lot busier with new “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones” series on the way. 

“The Sandman” does more than hold its own, however, and while there may be some fans unhappy at some of the tweaks made between page and screen, this remains epic, dazzling, complicated fantasy.

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars
Updated 12 August 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

What We Are Reading Today: Salmon Wars

Authors: Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins

In Salmon Wars, investigative journalists Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins bring readers to massive ocean feedlots where millions of salmon are crammed into parasite-plagued cages and fed a chemical-laced diet.
The authors reveal the conditions inside hatcheries, and at the farms that threaten our fragile coasts. They draw colorful portraits of characters, such as the big salmon farmer who poisoned his own backyard and the American researcher driven out of Norway for raising the alarm about dangerous contaminants in the fish.
Frantz and Collins document how the industrialization of salmon threatens this keystone species, and they show how it doesn’t need to be this way.

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music
Updated 12 August 2022

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music

Why Saudi DJ KEH quit his job to focus on music
  • DJ KEH: In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started
  • DJ KEH: The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music

RIYADH: Though delivering beats and remixes for a living may seem risky, Saudi DJ KEH does not regret quitting his job at airline carrier Saudia to work as a professional DJ.

“My music career started in 2017 with great potential to make a huge difference in the (electronic dance music) scene in Saudi Arabia due to the popularity and unique style,” he told Arab News.

“In 2017, I went to an event in the Philippines to attend an international DJ (event), and from here the spark started,” he said, adding that he was transfixed by the way the DJs at the turntables bewitched audiences with their shows. 

“There, I realized that I wanted to be a DJ. I didn’t even finish my vacation,” he said. “I went back to start learning, but my family was not supportive at the beginning because, as always, there is something strange about anything new … but after a while, my mother supported me in every possible way.”

Now DJ KEH gets requests to play at public and private events, and has played across a whole raft of events in Saudi Arabia.

“The nice thing about being a DJ is that you can create a common bond between you and the audience and take them on a journey through music,” he said of his profession. “Through music, you can enter the hearts of all people without saying a single word.”

He added that he thinks that it is important for music classes to be introduced into all communities.

“It is very important to have music in the community to learn about other cultures. The language of music brings all the world together,” said the DJ.

He says his musical journey has been influenced by many DJ’s, including a close friend.

“I was inspired by my friend and my first supporter, Hani Al-Bangari, and there are many local talents. Globally, there are many, starting with David Guetta and Martin Carol Cox,” he said.

Sharing his future plan, which is to represent his country at the biggest international events as well as possible, he said: “I want to prove that we are successful in all areas whenever the opportunity arises.

“I think the government is giving space to talented local musicians, and this is one of the directions of Vision 2030. Now, my goal and the goal of all DJs is to develop the DJ profession in Saudi Arabia.”