Christian Ghammachi's passion for photography spans over two decades and has led him in many different parts of the world including South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Cuba, India, the Middle East and Europe. Inspired by the resilience of people, landscapes and wildlife, hIs photography helped define genuine beauty found in hidden elements and emotions.Ghammachi is also known for showing Lebanon's beauty through a different angle with the publication of his previous book 'Rise above Lebanon', which highlights the country's amazing scenery through photos taken by a drone.In early 2013, Christian decided to embark on an epic adventure, consisting of traveling across the African Continent, and into the Middle East, on a motorbike. He'll trek all alone on his motorcycle carrying everything he needs right on his back—tent, food, lenses, tripod, camera... His journeys have been archived in book series titled 'Two Wheels Across' --the most recent of them being 'Two Wheels Across Lebanon' where he shares intimate color photographs of nature and people in the country he's so keen on showcasing its enchanted overlooked beauty. ArabAd caught up with the Lebanese artist/adventurer to learn more what drives this man to go through the unbeaten path seeking out the less obvious to capture for posterity.
How did the idea of 'Two wheels across Lebanon' originated?
In 2014, I decided to set aside an 18 year career in Law and focus on my passion for photography, which I had discovered at the age of 18. I was living in Cape Town at the time and wanted to discover Africa. I decided to combine my passion for photography with my love for travel and motorbike. Two Wheels Across Africa was born.
I crossed Africa from Cape Town to Djibouti, solo on a moto, for six months, across 16 countries and 20,000 kms, on a quest for images... However, I did not settle for photography, as I discovered both videography and drones.
A year later, I created the 'Rise Above Lebanon' campaign for the Ministry of Tourism. The concept was to spend the summer capturing videos and photos of Lebanon from above, using drones, and sharing them on social media. This project was followed by a book and a short film by the same name. 'Rise Above Lebanon' was a massive success, as many people living in Lebanon or abroad, discovered the country in a whole different perspective. The film went viral and the book sold out.
I was nonetheless left hungry. I wanted to show that Lebanon is as diversified and beautiful in its details than it is from above, which is why I decided to undertake 'Two wheels Across Lebanon' as the second half of the story.
Exactly what is it that you want to say with your photographs, and how do you actually get your photos to do that?
I look for the less obvious. In the introduction to 'Two Wheels Across Lebanon' book, I say: "Real beauty, real emotions, lay not in the apparent and immediate, but rather in the ability to withstand the test of time and adversity," which is why most of my work is the result of everything coming together perfectly-- the moment, the location, the light, and more importantly the emotion, all grab you at once and you are compelled to capture the moment.
What kind of mode you go into when photographing a concept or idea you are passionate about?
I think the right words would be: focused and passionate. I forget the notion of time, and somewhat also of physics. You will often see me perched on a chair or laying on the ground, looking for the right angle to capture what I saw or felt.
We know that each of us has someone or something that inspires our life and work. Can you tell us the true basis of your inspiration, the point of a departure to create extraordinary imagery?
Emotion. if it doesn't move me on some level, I can't capture it the way I want to.
Your work is reminiscent of Yann Arthus-Bertrand… Which photographers inspired you most and how did they influence your thinking, style and career path?
Arthus-Bertrand is a pioneer in the realm of aerial photography and his work will always be unique and inspirational. I find aerial photography interesting and sometimes incredible. However, my real passion is getting very close to my subjects, to look for the details of an emotion, light, etc. Portraits are amazing to me, and wildlife too. My inspiration comes from artists such as Helmut Newton, Graham Gordon and Nick Brandt.
What has been your most memorable project? Can you explain why you've felt really connected to it?
'Two Wheels Across Africa' without a doubt! Because I had decided to take all the time I needed and allow myself the time to feel and capture. People would often ask me "How long will it take?" to which I would answer "As long as it takes."
What is the favorite image you have shot recently?
The photo on the cover of 'Two Wheels Across Lebanon' is definitely on top of the list, which is why it made the cover! I love it because the moment was so unexpected. I was at the Cedars and going to do some ATV off-road when we stopped near the edge of the cliff and I saw the sunset light shining through the haze, onto the Quannoubine valley beneath us. The view was spectacular but it was missing an element, something that would make one realize just how incredible and massive this moment was. I asked my friend Milo if he would climb to the edge or the rock overlooking the valley, and he did. His silhouette in the foreground changed the entire image.
"Real beauty, real emotions, lay not in the apparent and immediate, but rather in the ability to withstand the test of time and adversity."
What makes a good photo stand out from the average?
It could be many things, but to me if a photo feels two dimensional, it will likely fail to captivate. I always try to give my images a third dimension, but creating perspective in my shots. Ultimately though, I believe a great photo is great because every step in its making was perfect--from seeing and feeling it, to capturing it right, to processing it right, printing it right and showing it right.
What's the best part of being a photographer?
Personally, photography has taught me to observe a lot, to understand light and to always keep my eyes and emotions open.
If not a photographer, who would you have been?
I would have had to find another way to express my creativity. I can't paint to save my life though !
Anything you'd like to add?
My goal with 'Rise Above Lebanon' and then 'Two Wheels Across Lebanon' is to always remind myself and whoever wants to hear and see, that Lebanon remains a country with a lot to offer, in spite of everything. The purpose of the book is not just to showcase as set of beautiful photos but to also serve as a guide. It has routes, suggested places to stay and things to do, thoughts shared, etc!