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surprise

A French term, photo surprise was a common photographic practice in the Middle East between the 1940s and the 1960s, and was especially popular in Lebanon. Photographers working in this tradition were called surpriseurs. Based in urban centers such as Beirut, Tripoli, and Istanbul, surpriseurs photographed pedestrians as they strolled city streets. The subjects—some posing, others caught unawares—were handed cards with the photographer’s studio address and contact information so they could order prints.

For the videos screened here, Raad and Zaatari combed the Arab Image Foundation’s archives of holdings from Agop Kuyumjian’s Photo Jack studio. Born in Adana, Turkey, in 1921, Kuyumjian was among the first to introduce photo surprise in Tripoli after studying it in Beirut. In 1945, he opened Photo Jack in Tripoli’s central Tell Square (Sahat al Tell in Arabic). Remaining active until 1997, Kuyumjian also hired other photographers, including Sarkis Restikian (born 1934) and Setrak Albarian (born 1925). In this video installation, Raad and Zaatari overlay dozens of Photo Jack’s surprise portraits taken in Tripoli’s Tell Square to create a panorama of how it looked in the 1950s. On one side is projected a composite view of Tell Square East, and on the other, Tell Square West.