Issue #2020.02

Beirut Port explosion, damage assessment, and Solidarity Fund

Dear friends and colleagues, 

As you know, this has been a catastrophic week for Beirut and Lebanon. A tragic week that follows an overwhelming year in the country. Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families and friends of the deceased, missing, and injured in the 4th of August explosions at the port of Beirut. 

The explosions at the port were neither inevitable nor accidental. They are the result of longstanding government negligence, and a failed political system that has plunged the country into complete paralysis. ​ 

Situated at 800m from the site of the explosions, the Arab Image Foundation’s fourth-floor premises on Gouraud Street in the Gemmayzeh area sustained substantial damage.

Header image #0242ac00076: Port of Beirut, 1930-1940, gelatin silver developing-out paper. Jorge Abud Chami Collection, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut

The AIF staff

Thankfully, only one member of the AIF staff was inside the premises at the time of the explosion. Mahmoud Merjan suffered physical injuries and is currently recovering. The human damage could have been a lot worse, had all the staff been present. 

Soon after the explosions, our staff, members and friends returned to the premises to begin the recovery process. They are joined by our community of former employees in the long and delicate process of cleaning up, despite the shock and trauma incurred.

The AIF premises

The AIF premises houses our workspaces, a cool storage room for the collection, and a library. The powerful second blast blew out all the glass from the windows, and the doors from their frames. Even the fireproof doors of the cool storage room were heavily damaged. All computers fell to the ground, and most are broken. The preservation department was the most severely impacted. The office is currently off the electricity grid due to damage to the network and we are working diligently to secure an alternative electricity source. 

The collection

Regrettably, our cool storage room, designed to preserve our collections in a stable, climate-controlled and fire-resistant environment, was significantly affected by the explosion. The ceiling fell in, its walls were damaged and storage shelves collapsed. Whilst the collection seems to be in a better shape than we first feared, it is too early to be able to clearly state the extent of the damage. We are working continuously to produce detailed condition reports for all the collections, to be ready in the coming weeks. As per our emergency response protocol, we have moved the network-attached storage system (NAS) containing our digital assets to the Sursock Museum, and are storing offsite backups in multiple locations.

Beirut port view from the sea, Eugène Cottard, June 1909, Stereoscopic view on glass plate. Eugène Cottard Collection, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut
Beirut port view from the sea, Eugène Cottard, June 1909, Stereoscopic view on glass plate. Eugène Cottard Collection, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut

The cleaning process

The team, members and volunteers ​ have begun cleaning the premises and removing the shards of glass. Following this, we will begin the process of re-arranging the shelves in storage, retrieving archival boxes and assessing ​ the damage to their contents, and cleaning, dusting and removing debris. We will work in a paced, careful manner in order to avoid causing any further damage. This process will require considerable time and energy.

A tribute to the volunteers

The cleaning process at the foundation has been possible thanks to the support of generous volunteers currently offering their time to help us and many others. We are immensely grateful for their dedication and hard work. 

The government’s minimal response to the disaster once again highlights the deep-rooted negligence, incompetence and corruption at the heart of the political system. ​ We ​ wish to acknowledge the individuals, civil society organisations and NGOs who have stepped in to help the people and places in need, and those supporting from afar. ​ Their self-organising autonomy, spirit of solidarity and relentless work inspires and brings solace to us all.

Thank you 

We thank all those who have reached out with messages of concern, encouragement and different kinds of help. Your solidarity is what keeps us going.

We also thank the Sursock Museum for hosting the AIF’s server and NAS, containing its digital assets.

Next steps

To resume our normal working operations, we will need to replace broken and damaged hard disks, computers and preservation and digitisation equipment (for a complete list, please see below). We also need to source the raw materials to repair the AIF premises, including wood and glass, which may prove difficult in the current context, as well as expertise to rebuild our cool storage room.

How you can help 

We invite donations to help cover the costs of the cleaning process, replacing equipment and repairing our workspaces. 

To support us financially, please click here to donate or for wire transfer information.

We also greatly appreciate in-kind gifts. Please see a list of material required below. Further, we are looking for individuals traveling from the US or Europe to Beirut in the upcoming weeks who could bring the needed material to Beirut.

Please email us at [email protected] for any questions or to discuss material or other support. 

Our solidarity cannot be broken

We firmly believe in the importance of working closely with other Lebanese cultural institutions and supporting each other, particularly given the difficult context in which we operate, with no state support.

Your donations to the AIF will help us in the immediate circumstances. We also encourage you to support the Lebanese art and cultural scene as a whole by donating to the solidarity fund organized by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC) and Culture Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy), initially set up to support cultural institutions in Lebanon through the ongoing financial crisis, and subsequently reopened and extended in light of the current catastrophe. ​ 

In solidarity,

Vartan Avakian, Yasmine Eid-Sabbagh, Cvmae Halim, Kristine Khouri, Charbel Al Khoury, Rawad Bou Malhab, Clémence Cottard, Mahmoud Merjan, Rachel Tabet

Post explosion images from the Arab Image Foundation in Beirut

List of needed material (please get in touch for more detail)

  • Computers (6 iMacs and 3 Macbook laptops)
  • 1 Scanner
  • UPS System
  • Hard disks
  • 1 Copy stand
  • 2 Studio lights
  • 1 Camera
  • Camera lenses
  • 1 Light box
  • Color targets
  • Black-out curtains
  • Data loggers
  • Brushes
  • Bone folders
  • Smoke sponges
  • Nitrile gloves, unpowdered, size M and L
  • Conservation quality corrugated boards
  • Polyethylene bags 2mm, various sizes from Gaylord or Preservation Equipment
  • Photographic archival paper natural white – without an alkaline buffer from Klug, 121x91cm, pack of 250
  • Acid-free boxes, various sizes, 10 of each from Klug Conservation
  • Acid-free paper enclosures, pack of 100 of each from Klug Conservation
  • Negative preservers, packs of 100 from Print File
  • 4 phones (landline)

Thank you
We extend our thanks to the supporters that make our current activities possible.

Major Supporters


Online Platform Supporter

Projects Supporters

Pikasso | Graham Foundation | Akram Zaatari | Alexandre Medawar

About The Arab Image Foundation

The Arab Image Foundation is an independent association forging new pathways for photography and image practices. Uniquely positioned at the intersection of artistic creation, research, and archiving, we explore, question and confront the complex social and political realities of our times.

Our collection of over 500,000 photographic objects and documents from and related to the Middle East, North Africa and the Arab diaspora has been gradually assembled over the last 25 years by artists and researchers and through donations. With a critical and innovative approach, we collect, rethink, preserve, animate and understand these photographs through their multiple strata, and enrich the collection in the process.


Zoghbi Building, 4th Floor, 337 Gouraud Street, Gemmayzeh, Beirut, Lebanon

+961 1 569 373

[email protected]