The Orient through the eyes of Olivier Chantôme

Olivier Chantôme is a French photographer and author who has captured the beauty of the Middle East during his extensive travels. With an eye for detail, he allows us to experience the different sceneries through his eyes.

” Capturing the instant before it disappears…
Watching remains of past – Contemplating life : from the young to the old age – Watching future in the desolated lands

A diachronic and meditative approach to the world, between East and West. “

Olivier is 32 years old and currently resides in Germany. I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his art and his travel experiences.

His first trip was in July 2006 when he travelled from Paris to Sofia by bus and later to Istanbul by train. The initial plan was to travel to Syria and Lebanon. However, these plans were cancelled due to the Lebanon war. Instead it was a long Anatolian journey, which only sparked his love for traveling.

In 2007 he then took a trip to Israel and Palestine.

Why did you choose Israel & Palestine as your next travel destination?

“When I was a Sociology student at University, I wrote my Master thesis about Diaspora and specifically about the Jewish Diaspora in France. In this sense, I wanted to go to “Eretz Israel” (editor note: The land of Israel), and see the situation with my own eyes. I was lucky because during this period the situation was calm. We wanted to see Israel and the Palestinian Territories and saw a lot of paradoxes in these societies. In Israel, I saw the best and the worst: Two extremes.”

When did you first get interested in the Middle East?

“My best experience and the beginning of my passion of the Middle East began during my Master’s degree in Development studies. During the first year I studied the Lebanon war and during the 2nd year I lived in Cairo. I am totally different now after having lived in Egypt in 2009. These were strange times in Egypt. It was the “dictatorship” of Mubarak. I was in Sinai a lot, visited the Monastery St. Catherine and I was in Alexandria until the Libyan border, and the Suez Canal. Now it’s almost impossible and dangerous after the revolution and the high level of insecurity.”

After spending the year in Cairo, Olivier came back to France and started working in Paris with frequent business trips to Istanbul. It was a typical job, be he soon realized that it wasn’t for him.

Couple facing the sea-Alexandria-Egypt
“Couple facing the Sea”, Alexandria, Egypt, 2009

What does photography mean to you?

“For me, photography is still like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s definition: Capturing the decisive moment. I think that photography is the expression of one reality – my own reality. When I press the button of my camera, I try to isolate one furtive moment from one reality. She still allows to create bridges between a lot of worlds and cultures. In fact, photography is a universal medium, a grammary or a vocabulary to understand our world. In this sense, a picture is only a sample of our world. A photographer decides to keep only one sample of reality, like a gift to the world, a tribute to human cultures.

Shoot something or someone, it’s like being an explorer or maybe a mystic: Someone trying to capture and to catch reality.”

“Man praying”, Shiraz, Iran, 2016

How can intercultural differences in the Middle East/North Africa be bridged through art?

“Difficult question, but crucial! Actually, in the global media we hear a lot of absurdities and nonsense about intercultural differences in the Middle East and North Africa. Art and photography can be one of the solutions to educate people about intercultural differences. Diversity in the human culture is the most important thing in our world. Art must to be the royal way to a better comprehension. And now, it’s very important that artists on the other side of the Mediterranean show their work in Europe to break these clichés.”

Olivier is currently working on his book, which he describes as a “fake autobiography”. Tell us a little bit about it.

“It’s a trip through Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Berlin. It’s not mystical but it contains a lot of Sufism and also contains my photography. The story changes as I write it. The chapters are like a diary. The story is about a writer who lives in Egypt during the revolution and he wants to write a book about ruins, but he can’t finish his novel. It’s a book in a book. It’s about the situation in Syria and I have a chapter in Lebanon with a big focus on the civil war as well as a chapter about Iran, Tehran, Sufism and the Suez Canal. It ends in Berlin. I would like to finish this project and start other projects.”

Tell us about your exhibitions, Oli!

“I had my first personal exhibition in Dresden (Germany) last June and it was like a dream for me. This exhibition was titled “A journey through silence” with pictures from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Armenia, India and France!

And now, I hope to have my first exhibition in the Middle East in 2018. Also, I am working with a musical collective from North Africa and the Middle East about a musical and photographic project and about an exhibition project about memory in ex-German Democratic Republic.”

“Self-portrait like a mystic”, July 2017

We are very excited about Olivier’s upcoming projects. You can check out Olivier’s work here:


The Orient through the eyes of Olivier Chantôme

Introducing Awham | Lebanese Indie

Beirut is the Levantine hub of culture and art. Known for its vibrant musical community, Beirut has brought forth many musicians – who have gained popularity in the Middle East and far beyond! Despite political turmoil and social issues, the local music scene keeps thriving and evolving with new and unique talents emerging.

One of the new bands in the Lebanese music scene is Awham. Awham is a Beirut based 3-piece band with members from different backgrounds. Together they joined forces to create a brand new sound.

Awham may very well become the next big thing in the Middle Eastern indie scene! With their debut album in the works, I had the chance to interview the Lebanese underground band. 

Who is Awham?

“Sandy is the voice of Awham, Elie is the electric element and Wissam is its instrumentalist. Together we try to create and perform a fresh brew of music.“

Awham 3

How did the three of you meet? What were you doing before?

El Ishac: “I originally worked in the food and beverage field for almost 11 years, I’ve always had a passion for music and played instruments since I was 10. I never saw music as a professional field while growing up, I played the guitar for fun for many years, mainly jamming with friends and playing covers. In my early twenties I was DJing in bars in Beirut even after my long shifts, it’s only when I went to Canada that I was able to fully invest in music. The shift was possible mainly because of the environment abroad, in its positive sides but also due to the fact that we mainly stayed in and there’s often access to technology which was the key to experimenting with new gears. Three years later, I came back to Beirut, I initially thought I would go back to the food and beverage field but kept on jamming with many musicians like Wissam, we played a couple of gigs in Beirut, I found a lot of support amongst friends and the local music scene. This encouraged me to make, maybe the toughest professional decision I ever had to make, and fully invest in music projects. The first project I had in mind required a female vocalist. So we asked around and this is how I met Sandy.“

Wissam: “I’m an architecture student and I’ve been playing guitar since 2006. I participated in many projects that encompass a variety of genres. During this period, I was mainly working on elaborating my personal style and discovering where I actually find myself as a guitarist but also as a musician in general. This allowed me to understand patterns and structures that enabled me to start writing music on my own and in particular, with Elie. This is when I met Sandy – Elie and I would often jam and we already had a lot in common, working on music together just felt so natural. When Sandy came along, she added her vocals and lyrics and it automatically turned into a project.“

Sandy: “It happened all of a sudden actually. In May 2016, and after two years of living in Angola, Africa, where I filled the position of an HR Coordinator/Recruitment specialist although I originally graduated in Audio Visual Arts/Cinema Directing and worked in this very field for more than 7 years, I came back to my home country. Not long after settling back in Beirut (couple of weeks’ maximum) I met a friend and we started talking about music; he later on introduced me to Elie who had been looking for a female vocalist for his new project. By that time I had been thinking about entering the music scene, since I always had this lust to write my own songs and well, sing them. The weird and beautiful thing was that Elie and I did not even chat; he just said: “Let’s jam”. And so we did. The minute our jam finished, we knew we were meant to do music together. So couple of days later, I came back to Elie’s flat and there was Wissam, Awham’s little genius. Since that day, the three of us were inseparable.“

What inspires you?

„What inspires us to make music is our past, our present and the dreams/fears we hold for the future especially when you live in a city like Beirut. Social encounters are a big part of our inspiration. Music is our escape; we enjoy playing music. It is a language that keeps changing, and we are very curious to always explore this realm of possibilities through harmony and polyrhythm.“

Who writes the music and the lyrics?

Sandy is the lyricist of the band, but when it comes to music everybody does everything. It’s really hard to tell where one member ends and the other starts, as the creative process is a complex collaborative effort that goes back and forth between everyone to reach its final form but technically this is how it goes;

Sandy (Vocalist/songwriter): Lyricist and vocals.

Wissam (Songwriter, guitarist): Guitar, bass, pads and keys.

Elie (songwriter/producer): Beats, sounds and programming.

First single “Awham

What do you express through your music? 

„What we are trying to express through our music is the weird, full of suspense, stressful, enthusiastic life each one of us lives in our country. We are a post-war generation, a youth raised on diversity, opposition, fights, guns, different cultures and backgrounds, different mentalities etc. We have a lot to say! You are never bored here, you can never run out of ideas, out of creativity. There is always something to speak of. We also try to discuss and reflect through our lyrics and music, the different human and social disorders people hold. We discuss social anxiety, political corruption, human interaction, psychological disorders…“

AwhamAwham live at yukunkunbeirut

How would you describe your style?

“Our style is a bit of casual Lebanese spontaneity on top of an electronic base with a twist of jazz and rock. It’s really a blend of everybody’s influences.”

Who are some of your influences?

“It is hard to list influences for there are many. But if we had to name a few, we would say: Oum Kolthoum, Mohamad Abdalwahab, Rahbani Family, Soapkills, Pink Floyd, Massive Attack, Nicolas Jaar, Metallica, Archive, Godspeed! You black Emperor, Breaking Benjamin, Karnivool, Alter Bridge, Creed , Staind.”

How would you describe the Beirut music scene? 

“Beirut has enormous talent in almost every genre of music. The chaos of this place and the contrast between its extreme darkness and extreme ecstatic side are inspiring. It’s true that our artistic scene still needs time to recover in an age of economic and political instability. However, it’s really inspirational to witness a generation of new artists growing fast and creating new networks of possibility for everyone. We sprout from this environment and we’re proud to represent it.”

What’s next for Awham?

“We’re currently in the process of recording our debut album. We have a lot of upcoming surprises that go along with the release of the album, we’d rather announce them when they’re due. Other than the album, we’re simply always on the lookout for inspiration.”

We are excited!

Follow Awham on Facebook:

Follow Awham on Instagram: @awhambeirut




Introducing Awham | Lebanese Indie