Manoug’s Magic Lantern : Views onto Lebanon > Manoug Alemian, (1918-1994): Life and work > Biography

Manoug Alemian  (1918-1994)

 

Manoug Alemian was born in Latakia, Syria, in 1918, and tragically lost his parents to the Armenian Genocide. Manoug was adopted, and took the name of his adoptive parents. He studied painting for several years before moving to Lebanon in 1936, where he developed a keen interest in photography. The young man taught himself the artistry of photography, and went on to establish in 1956 his first professional photo studio in Bab Idriss, downtown Beirut. In 1965, Manoug would open and run his new studio and gallery on Graham Street, until the beginning of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. Throughout these golden years of the 50s, 60s and early 70s, Manoug would go on to become one of the most spirited, talented and famous photographers in Lebanon and the Middle East.

 

In 1960, Manoug would meet the love of his life, Ms. Sonia Aprahamian (Alban), a talented portrait photographer herself, and the niece of the famous photographer Alban. The initial meeting took place at Ms. Sonia Alban’s photograph exhibit at the AUB Libraries gallery, a meeting which would lead to a lifelong love and commitment. Sonia ran her own photographic studio in Ras Beirut for several years, and would lend Manoug’s career and person unwavering support throughout his life.

 

Manoug worked closely with many official entities within the booming pre-war Lebanon: the Lebanese Ministry of Tourism, the Middle East Airlines, the Baalbeck International Festival, the Jeita Spelio Club, many advertising agencies, etc. For over thirty years, Manoug’s love for and obsession with Lebanon would lead him to not leave any stone, ruin, city, geographic area, landscape, coast, port, craft, tradition or village, undocumented and un-photographed: thousands of photos, all meticulously studied, executed, developed, would capture the spirit of Lebanon. Thousands of photos of landscapes, villages, mountains, ancient port cities, e.g. Byblos, Sidon and Tyre, ruins and archeological sites, e.g. the Roman ruins of Baalbek, Faqra, Tyre, etc., the magisterial Lebanese Cedars, aerial photos of budding urban centers especially Beirut, various photos of architectural buildings, sculptures, archeological sites, portraits of people, etc., would go on to adorn the offices of Lebanese diplomatic missions, of tourism bureaus, business establishments, advertising agencies, government offices, Middle east airlines, magazines, Baalbeck festival publications, advertisements, etc., in Lebanon, the Arab world, and internationally. Manoug’s extraordinary talent and ability to distill, through a sensitive and keen eye, and great skill and artistry, the spirit of a moment, landscape, or person, would also draw the attention of prominent leaders in the Middle East, who sought to be photographed by him, for their official portraits. Examples of such leaders and prominent personalities who commissioned Manoug to take their official portrait photograph, included, e.g. King Hussein of Jordan, King Faisal and King Khaled of Saudi Arabia, President Hafez el-Assad of Syria, President Camille Chamoun of Lebanon, etc. Manoug was the eye of Lebanon, the photographer of the Nation by excellence.

Indeed, for Manoug, photography was not simply a career, but an art and a passion: "When one begins without anything", Manoug explained, "one does not think primarily in terms of commercialism. My aim was never to make money as such but rather to be working in my own branch and brand of photograph"; “My goal always was not to become richer but to perfect my art—for photography is an art in itself. If one thinks only in terms of money one loses the artistic ability."[2]

 

Manoug was well-known for his black and white photography. He explains his love for Black and white photography in the following words: "a color photograph after being exposed for 6 months loses its original colors—this is why I don't concentrate on color photographs. Black and white photography is much more difficult but also more stimulating for the artist, since people are not taken up by the colors but rather by the art involved in the production of such photographs. For the latter then, one must have excellent composition and technique; otherwise the picture would lose its beauty."[3]

 

Manoug's work was highly appreciated, he won several prestigious national as well as international prizes and awards including the Munich Photography Contest, 1962; the Kodak International Color Competition, 1964 (for his iconic photo of the Baalbek Bachus temple lit by the moon in the background); the International Tourism Contest, 1970; Lebanese Order of Cedars, 1975, 1993; the Said Akl prize, 1975; Armenian Order of Nerses Shenorali, 1993, and many more.

 

Mnaoug was not only a photographer, but an art lover and supporter: he would repeatedly host art exhibits in his gallery/studio on Graham Street, including exhibits for fellow friend artists Helen el Khal, Aref el-Rayess and Paul Guiragossian.

 

Deeply touched by the war, Manoug would emigrate to Canada in 1977, never to return to his beloved Lebanon. Manoug pursued his career in Canada and produced an interesting body of work. Manoug passed away in 1994, leaving us with a legacy and an oeuvre that will remain forever etched in our visual memory as definitive and iconic of our beloved country.

 

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[1] AIM: Armenian International Magazine; 2/28/1994; Harry L. Koundakjian - 02-28-1994 -Ethnic NewsWatch © SoftLine Information, Inc., Stamford, CT

http://www.onefineart.com/en/artists/manoug_alemian/index.shtml

[2] Said, Joyce. "Aiming for Best Makes Manoug Famous Photographer." Daily Star [Beirut] 17 Jan. 1971.

[3] Ibid


 

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