Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Green Line

The Magnum site currently has an exhibition of war photography from Lebanon, 1972-2005, with images of “the civil war, the reconstruction of Beirut, the Palestinian refuge camps, the influence of Hezbollah, Israeli incursions / pullouts and the relatively carefree life that civilians were enjoying before the eruption of the latest conflict”. Some of the most striking cityscapes are by the Iranian photographer Abbas. In 2004 he photographed pristine new buildings in Beirut with the Holiday Inn towering behind them, still scarred by shrapnel. What would this view look like today? It seems as if the city is returning to the ruins Abbas photographed in 1977 - a partially-collapsed building watched by an injured man.
The strangest and most compelling of Abbas’s images shows the Green Line demarcation zone between Christian East and Muslim West Beirut in 1982. It vividly demonstrates how a line coloured green on the map of Beirut became a literal ‘green’ zone, with post-apocalyptic vegetation reclaiming the streets and obliterating the scars of war. The evolution of the Green Line is explained here by Michael F. Davie: “the first two years of the war also saw the creation of the "Green Line" (a term borrowed from Israeli military mapping vocabulary), the demarcation line between the main opposing militias. This no-man's land slowly widened and spread thanks to military action, became overgrown with vegetation, then extended to the city's suburbs then to the ridges and valleys overlooking Beirut.” More images of the Green Line can be found here.

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