Dalia Kahamissy: The Missing

Dalia Khamissy studied at a fine art university in Lebanon however she was always more interested in the area of documentary photography having been exposed to the country’s civil war for the majority of her life. Khamissy had experience both in the field and behind the desk becoming a photo editor for AP which in turn consumed a lot of her available time as the events of war became ever more prominent. After leaving this position and spending eight months without a camera Khamissy had time to focus on the content she really wanted to produce. As an individual living in an area of conflict she noticed that there is no sense of privacy, when a story is deemed in the public interest, photojournalists equip themselves with the ‘authority’ to enter homes and take images to visually represent the events of war. However some of these photographers could not have known what living through the war was actually like, instead of being able to empathise they could only sympathise. The war made Khamissy feel destroyed and abandoned and she began to explore this concept in photography, finally starting the photographic project ‘The Missing’ which explored the controversial kidnappings of people never to return. ‘The Missing’ was a collaborative project working with the mothers of those who had been taken; while the fathers continued to go to work everyday the women would search for their loved ones. However Khamissy insists that the project shouldn’t be interpreted as depicting the mothers, it is telling the story of those who are missing.

The concept of truth is a key factor is this situation; Khamissy describes that the history of the civil war is not taught in schools as those in power may have been influential in the horrors that happened. The narrative of the civil war has not been decided yet however it is told and passed down in families; this relates to David Campbell’s idea of history where the event needs to be narrated to provide evidence of what happened. The youth of Lebanon today have been informed many different versions of the civil war story and these come together to clash; instead of being collective and investing themselves in one main narrative. Truth therefore becomes fragmented and it is highly possible for groups of people to be misrepresented, regardless of what they have actually done.

Along with truth comes the power of authority, we are familiar with the image triad where the power is split between the subject, photographer and viewer but have we ever considered a fourth influence in this dynamic? The authority of those in power of both distributing and restricting the right to freedom of speech have a major factor on the narratives which are seen by the population. In 2012 the Chinese government tightened restrictions on internet access which was believed to be an attempt on vanquishing freedom of speech. Truth and power are both factors in the process of photography however there is another element which directly affects our ability to tell a subject’s story; this element is safety. As explored in the previous post about Wasmour Mansour’s Single Saudi Women, it is important to make the subject feel safe and comfortable in the knowledge that you as a photographer will represent them correctly. However when have we ever considered the physical safety of the subject that we are photographing? Living in an established democratic society where freedom of speech is given it is easy to forget that in some countries, a subject may be persecuted for allowing a photographer to tell their story.

It is clear that the imperative idea from this interview is to prioritise the subject, Khamissy states that we must feel ‘privileged’ to tell the story of a subject and not entitled. The image maker should also focus on examining the story from the subject without bringing in their own personal perceptions in order to create an image informed by truthful context. Finally we should consider how photography means responsibility not only in terms of the subject’s representation but also their status of safety, could you shoulder the knowledge knowing that your photograph could have lead the subject’s death?

All quotations and ideas were taken from the Phonar interview made by Jonathan Worth, to listen to this interview follow the link below:



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