Marie el Khazen 1908-1983
Written by Malek

 Born in Lebanon at the beginning of the twentieth century, Marie el Khazen evolved into a modern, unconventional woman in a patriarchal society; a member of one of the oldest Lebanese families. Independent and with the famed Khazen sense of humor, her love of life and freedom inspired pastimes that encompassed broderie (with porcupine needles!), taxidermy, riding, driving, hunting, fishing, a fondness for animals, a love of literature and of course photography, at which she became famous only after her death. She grew up in a mansion in Tallet el Khazen, near Zgharta; her father being Said el Khazen, her mother Wardeh Torbey, and her grandmother Sultana Daher, the wife of Sheikh Fendi el Khazen, from Ghosta.

Rather than turning professional, Marie remained a serious amateur photographer. With her Eastman Kodak camera and keen on experimenting, she had the skills to set up and use her own darkroom. She would pose, and occasionally dress up her subjects, such as in the 1929 portrait of Two Women Disguised as Men, in which both Marie el Khazen and Alice her sister are sitting on plush chairs with their legs crossed, beneath an ancestral portrait within a handsome room in Talle. Dressed in suits and ties and wearing tarbooshes (traditional Arab hats), they are enjoying cigarettes in long elegant holders of the period,  and seem to be comfortable, even complacent in their newfound freedom.

 The New York Times art critic Adam Shatz said of it: "Such pictures don't come along often, but once seen, they are impossible to forget, lodging themselves in the mind with the visceral force of revelation."

Other photographs depict the family’s interest in country sports and automobiles, and Marie gave over 100 of her negatives to the journalist Mohsen Yammine, in the 1970’s. The Arab Image Foundation now has these and more, many of which have been included in exhibitions, that in the Institute du Monde Arabe in Paris being significant. One of these, taken in 1924, shows Cheikh Khazen el Khazen and a young woman on horseback, looming over the subject in the foreground. A double exposure, the photograph overlays the figures   with a verdant landscape, creating a surreal but beautifully balanced composition.


1924 image by Marie El-Khazen (Credit: Mohsen Yammine collection, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation)

1924 image by Marie el Khazen (Mohsen Yammine collection, courtesy of the Arab Image Foundation)