This exhibition brings to the attention of the public the activities of the Lebanese/American photographer, artist, traveler, archivist, and DJ Lucien Samaha. Born in Beirut in 1958, Samaha and his family moved to the United States when he was eleven. In the US he lived in many places and explored multiple careers. As an “airline brat" (as Samaha likes to call himself, recalling his early aerial voyages across the Arabian peninsula, as the first-class-seated son of a Middle East Airlines agent), his first long term job was as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines (TWA). Then, in the late 1980s, he pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) thanks to a scholarship from Kodak; he had developed an interest in photography from an early age, owing to a family photography archive compiled by his amateur photographer Lebanese uncle. Even in the US, Samaha did not lose touch with his extended family in Lebanon, whom he visited every few years or so just before and after the Lebanese Civil War. After graduation from RIT in the early 1990s, Samaha first interned and then got a full-time position in the Professional Photography Division of Eastman Kodak Rochester NY. Samaha's other long-term occupations or short-term gigs included: data entry clerk, archivist and database designer/publisher of his personal lifetime collection of analog and digital photographs, nightlife paparazzo, fashion photographer, and New York City club DJ.
In some of his professional careers, says Samaha, he played a pioneering role. When employed by Eastman Kodak, he was part of the company's new working group in charge of marketization and promotion of the first commercially available digital photo cameras. He was the first photographer to field-test and use a Kodak DCS-100 (the first commercially available digital single-lens reflex DSLR camera) outside of company labs. And in the 1990s his name was mentioned along with other founding members of the Arab Image Foundation photography archive in Beirut. Samaha often mentions his part, as a DJ and nightlife entertainer, in introducing Lounge Music, an easy listening style whose rise to mass popularity music historians date to the late 1990s and early 2000s, in the nightlife locales of global metropolises. What's more, many elements in Samaha's careers connect and interweave. As a TWA flight attendant and popularizer of digital photography he has extensively documented his flights, events, layovers, projects, colleagues, and places he has visited; and as a DJ and popularizer of lounge music, for many years he sampled records collected in the countries, cities, and continents that he flew into, over, and out of. Throughout all of this he kept compulsively photographing, at first in analog and then—after the big divide—in digital or using both formats.
While his traveling photodiaries, archival practices, and engagement with early digital photography have been featured in shows and exhibitions on several occasions, for this project with AUB Art Galleries we have decided to focus on Samaha's DJing and photography career. To introduce this project, we will first tell the story of one of Samaha's gigs.