The Sounder

The Perfect Shot Lebanese filmmaker and photographer Alain Sauma on one of his favourite images
Salemeh by Alain Sauma. The Corniche, Beirut, 2016
“The Corniche. Beirut. Summer 2016. A popular diving spot among local youths. Two Syrian friends were standing watching. One of them, Salemeh, moved closer; all of a sudden he decided to dive. Within seconds, Salemeh had stripped off, climbed over the railing, and was preparing to jump. The drop wasn’t far, just a few metres. His friend couldn’t believe it: “We were just supposed to meet up for coffee, not get naked and jump in the sea,” he said. Salemeh ignored him, his mind focused on the dive. He said he’d done it once before, and wanted to do it again.

A fan of amateur divers, I’d remained silent, standing right next to Salemeh, my eye stuck to the viewfinder, as if hiding behind my camera so I could make myself invisible. I was hoping to capture a breathtaking jump with Beirut’s cityscape in the background - in my mind I was already adding it to my series on divers.

Salemeh was taking his time, he focused on what lay beneath, oblivious to his friend’s mutterings: “You’re going to smash your head, that’s what’s going to happen. And then what? What am I supposed to tell your mother?” he said.

Minutes went by, and Salemeh didn’t budge. Onlookers came closer, teenagers prodding him on, others mocking him, telling him to go back to his ‘mama.’ Then out of the blue, he looked straight at me, anxious, and asked me if I, too, was waiting for him. I whispered, “If you feel confident, do it. Otherwise, you don’t have to.” He looked away, his expression had already changed, I sensed the pressure building up in him, he was also conscious of my camera.

I became afraid I would distract him so I parked myself behind him, to share his perspective: the horizon, the sea, the power of the tension in his body… and suddenly, it made me want to be in his place.”

Born: Beirut.

Trained: ALBA (Académie Libanaise des Beaux Arts) in Beirut, FEMIS (Fondation Européenne pour les Métiers de l’Image et du Son) in Paris.
Influences: Henri Cartier Bresson, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Robert Doineau.
High Point: “At Black Rock City, when through the blur of sudden sand storms, the shapes of persons and creations appear amid the white dust and I felt as if in an alternative world.”
Low Point: “Attempting to shoot in the pouring rain in a township in Soweto, Johannesburg. There were incredible images to be had – smiling faces peering through doors, women huddled around fires, children hopping around but the light was fading and my feet were getting stuck in the muddy road as the rain poured and poured. It was a total miss for the camera.”
Top Tip: “Using one lens. It forces me to look for a better composition of the photo.”

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