Mahmoud Baayoun's Look Inside a Juvenile Prison


Inspiration comes from many places, and in many forms. For Beirut based photographer Mahmoud Baayoun, inspiration first came from his family's metal factory. With a chef as a mother and an artist as a father, he always had an affinity for manual and visual work. After working on set for music videos, documentaries and ads, Mahmoud ended up on the set of Capernaum, an Oscar-nominated and award-winning movie by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki. Shot all across Lebanon, the film also takes place in juvenile prison, where Mahmoud photographed his series, "Juvenile" on some Lomography 800 within the frame of the filming of Capernaum. We spoke to Mahmoud about the challenges he faced while shooting inside the prison, as well as the journey that led him to film photography.

©Mahmoud Baayoun

Hello Mahmoud, it's great to have you here at Lomography. First off, can you tell us how you got into photography, and specially film photography?

My father noticed my insatiable imagination when I was a kid and how I looked at things differently. At the age of 9, he lent me a film camera, the EOS 1 and I fell in love with the gear and the sound of the shutters. I also had my own camera, digital and film point and shoots, and eventually got got into cinema because of my love for photography. At 19 while working on documentary, I saw French tourists with an old film camera and went back home to find one in my grandfather’s closet. It was still brand new. I took it with me on set and started shooting random stuff such as balconies, alleyways, cars and crew members. From there I started reading about the technical aspect of film photography and aesthetic of it. It also plays with emotions and has a sense of nostalgia to it.

What’s your favorite subject to photograph?

I love shooting documentary photo series. The rawness of it speaks to me on so many levels. Whenever I photography, I always use film as I feel the format actually adds emotion to the unusual framing.

©Mahmoud Baayoun

Where do you draw inspiration from?

My inspiration is drawn from my long walks in Beirut, one to three hours walk, and music, usually jazz and surf rock, and lastly my never-ending extreme mood swings.

Can you tell us a bit more about this project?What made you start the project?

“Juvenile” is the result of the shock. It impacted me heavily as I thought working on an Oscar nominated set would be perfect, but it ended up being a true test of skills and patience. During the last day of night shoot I said to myself I should definitely try to smuggle my camera in some way, which meant taking it in in pieces with the ALEXA as accessories, just to show the world what I saw on the inside of this insane world.

Why did you choose to shoot it on film?

I needed a format that would help me express those emotions and feelings, stuck between thick and heavy cement walls. Digital photography was totally out of question and I never edit my photos. I needed a format with character, textures, tint, hue, a good contrast ratio and grain. A LOT OF GRAIN.

What were the challenges you faced when shooting it?

The main challenges inside the prison were to avoid kids snitching, guards, and the producer forbidding me to photograph! And of course, alternating between taking care of the professional equipment (camera, cine lenses, batteries…) and stealing a second to snap a shot.

©Mahmoud Baayoun

Can you tell us what a day shooting this project looked like?

A normal day of shooting in prison meant waking up at 5 am, getting dressed and driving to the prison where we had to get searched and checked thoroughly. We were able to smell the stench of rot and sewers from outside the prison, it was disgusting. We had to avoid talking or answering any question from any prisoner. We had extremely short lunch breaks, cold and not so appetizing prison food and walking by people who actually did horrible stuff. So you can say it was tough.

What made you start the project?

The prison felt like a cement and metal maze. I later learned it was built by Germans in the 50's which made it clear to me why it is so perfectly made but badly ran. It is like a micro society in there where you had all parts of Lebanon sitting together in a building ravished by roaches and rats, most of them dead from intoxication.

Will this series evolve in a bigger project?

I really wanted to shoot prisons around the world but wouldn’t really like to relive the stress I lived in at our local prison. For now, I am sticking to other topics that spark my interests as well.

To check it out more of Mahmoud's work, head over to his Instagram .

written by tamarasaade on 2020-06-29

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