The Sounder

ARE YOU READY FOR COLD CUTS...? … a powerful new Lebanese photo magazine launched this month at Papercup
Photo: George Awde for Cold Cuts Magazine

Photo by George Awde for Cold Cuts Magazine.

Digital and print mediums continue to diverge but opportunities exist in the overlaps between the two writes Ramsay Short. Enter an impressive new photography journal and online filmmaking platform made in Beirut that’s not afraid to take on big issues.

A conventional magazine it is not. But then there’s little that’s conventional about the 29 year-old founder and editor-in-chief of Cold Cuts, Mohamad Abdouni. The creative director and filmmaker is all ideas, issues and passion, someone who’s not going to let the small problem of how-to-finance-a-print-publication-in-an-increasingly-digital-first-world get in his way.

The new periodical, launched this month at Papercup, is all the better for it. With a free-design ethos (following an experimental layout or “chaos within the rules” as Abdouni describes it), pioneered by the likes of magazines like Adbusters and others, there is no conventional sectioning or read through, no headlines or straplines. Conceived with art director/designer Tala Safié and visual consultant/fashion editor Charles Nicolas, Abdouni is keen to point out the freedom this gives the magazine is something to cherish.

“What’s fascinating is that when you build a publication that is not motivated by profit and you no longer really care about selling advertising space, all rules go out the window. That’s an insanely fun and freeing state of mind to be in,” he says.

Having previously run the relatively short-lived art and culture rag F/I/M2/P Abdouni has experience of attempting the former: “Look, I learned that it’s madness to still be trying to make a profitable business out of print publishing in this day and age [the advertising market being mainly online with sales of magazines falling year on year]. Print is not a dying a format, but it is changing.”

Indeed, while flagship newsstand titles such as Condé Nast Traveller and Esquire are shrinking in pagination reflecting the dearth of print advertising, there a plethora of independent magazines covering all manner of subjects and interests are flourishing – albeit operating specifically with niche audiences and within small margins. Take Racquet, Little White Lies and Rouleur covering tennis, film and cycling for example.

In its first instalment Cold Cuts is very much a personal reflection of Abdouni’s likes, interests, causes and friends with few firm rules. And that’s no bad thing.

“It’s a playground. It has no clear mission as of yet, no rules, no limitations in terms of format or medium,” he says. “Sure it’s a bit of a ‘projet caprice’ for me. But really it is a print publication curating photographers from around the world as well as being an online platform for short form film from Middle Eastern Directors and a music incubator for exclusive collaborations. And many other things I have yet to delve into.

“Rather than deciding what Cold Cuts is and creating a personality for it, I am letting it grow on its own, and allowing it to form its own identity and affinities,” he says, adding that every edition won’t follow the exact same format.

The first issue (running at 176pp) is a melange of photographic work with very little text, just one essay by Michelle Wazan on living as a drag queen and being gay in the Middle East that is imaginatively laid out in small text boxes across numerous pages over interlinked images from different photographers. This syncs nicely with Abdouni’s eloquent short film providing an insight on the same subject following drag performer Anya Kneez (also a contributor to the magazine) at A single illustrator is featured but the majority of contributors comprise photographers, stylists, musicians and actors primarily from Lebanon and the Middle East as well as the rest of the world.

“Most are friends and acquaintances of mine from everywhere, people that I know or have come to know. The magazine is a culmination of the many adventures I have been on with these talented people over the last year,” Abdouni says. “They are not commissions, the work comes from their own projects that they have contributed and all of them are well established in their fields.”

Much of the photography is urban, and raw. Snapshots of life, revealing portraits, awkward sometimes, at other times incredibly haunting. Often beautiful, powerful even. The contributors include the likes of Austrian/Lebanese photographer Tanya Traboulsi, a winner of the Boghossian Foundation Prize for Photography; creative director for Beirut fashion and style bible A Mag, Mélanie Dagher; New York-based stylist Bunny Lampert; and French photographer and cover artist Esteban Gonzalez.

“Esteban is someone I’ve grown to immensely appreciate over the past year. The cover shot [a wet, naked, tattooed male figure in the shower cropped at neck and knees with the Cold Cuts logo stamped over his penis] does not at all do justice to the rest of the work he has featured exclusively in the first issue, which is splendidly raw in its entirety. But for some reason this particular image felt like a perfect fit for the cover,” says Abdouni. “Not for the shock factor of course. I mean it would be ridiculous to assume that the bare torso and pubic hair of a man in 2017 would be considered shocking, but simply because it felt right.”

It’s a strong cover, the photograph itself laid over the names of the contributors printed in large medieval-type font beneath, and one that will immediately stand out on the shelves.

“I think the reason they hopped on this is, quite simply, because it felt like fun. There’s nothing too serious happening here. I guess you can say Cold Cuts is a sort of a visual outcome of people I meet, the things we do together and the affinities we develop, along with other creative individuals. It’s a fun journey and sometimes that’s more of an incentive than money,” says Abdouni.

The fact they have all contributed their work for free, rather than echoing the exploitation that often happens with young photographers in the magazine world in return for exposure (something Abdouni agrees is out of order), is in part what has enabled Cold Cuts to come to fruition.

“The first print run is just 500 issues. I’ve put a sum in myself, and the rest of the funding comes from friends and colleagues who support the initiative and who somehow feel like they want to be part of Cold Cuts actually seeing the light of day,” he says. “In the end financing the first issue has not been much of a struggle at all, nor do I believe any future issues will be, considering that it is aperiodic. When I can, I print, and I print as little or as big as I can, depending on what I have.”

While this is clearly not your standard model and the sustainability and the regularity of Cold Cuts remains to be seen, the platform that Abdouni has created both in print and online, is bursting with an energy that is reflective of the mass of creative talent and ideas currently coming out of Beirut, and the perfect outlet to give that talent a voice. Cross-pollinating this with emerging and established photographers from around the world, while tackling vital issues of identity and sexuality in the Middle East, is no small thing.

“Beirut is such a vibrant place to be creative I think in part because of the frustration of living in it,” Abdouni says. “It sounds negative when I put it so bluntly, but it’s not necessarily. There are just so many layers to it.”

Cold Cuts feels essential, the sort of publication that doesn’t merely reproduce the same things as every other photo/culture mag, but goes a little further giving its contributors a strong individual voice, and in time perhaps even influence.

And what of the title of the magazine itself, where did that come from?

“I remember that I was on a plane to Paris when I thought of it and immediately decided on it. That’s really all I can recall. It made sense at the time, it still does. I just can’t put my finger as to quite why.”


Cold Cuts was launched on November 24. To watch the first crop of short films and music videos visit