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Almost immediately following the invention of photography, itinerant practitioners began taking their cameras out into the world. Traveling to remote places, they produced inexpensive portraits, making photography available to the masses. The photographic installations seen here are composed of prints from negatives taken by Hashem el Madani, an itinerant photographer of Saudi descent who was born in 1930 in Sidon (Saida), a coastal city in southern Lebanon. In 1947, seeking employment, Madani went to Jaffa, where he worked with a Jewish immigrant photographer named Katz. Returning to Sidon in 1948, he opened his own studio, called Shehrazade, in 1953—and it is still in operation today.

Madani had a daily routine: he walked the streets of the old city, ending up at the beach and, occasionally, continuing down to the river, snapping portraits of faithful customers and seeking new ones. “Everywhere on my way, people asked me to come in and take portraits of their families, since most of them did not own cameras,” Madani recalls. He continues: “In the beginning, I would not ask for any money in advance… I was only paid after the client saw the photograph, and liked it. Ninety percent of the people used to buy their photos, while the rest of them turned them down for financial reasons.”

On view are images of customers swimming and reclining on the beach. Also seen here are portraits of Muslim Boy Scouts, riding on a ski lift during a summer visit to the winter resort of Faraya in the mid-1950s. Madani provided the captions seen here from memory, supplying the names of people he knew and describing the others in terms of religion or ethnicity. Dates are approximate, based on his idiosyncratic numbering system.