Exhibitions of Orientalist art of the Ottoman Middle East invariably include photos of the pillars of Baalbek.
Usually springing from the imaginations of wandering European and American artists rather than their Ottoman counterparts, these works juxtapose colossal Roman-era architecture with the minute human figures who inherited the landscape from the departed Romans.
These ant-like figures appeared less than the ruined former greatness that dwarfed them
When photographers focused on the region’s contemporary inhabitants, representations betrayed the anthropological air of those encountering an exotic and alien culture.
“Memories of Baalbek and its Environs,” an exhibition of photos and paintings from this region dating from 1843 to 1943, is replete with such images. To its credit, the show, up at Unesco Palace until Sunday, also includes photos of contemporary vernacular architecture.
Bereft of human beings, these images’ effort to grasp living architecture and its relationship to the landscape tend to betray the aesthetic of the of the rationalizing land surveyor rather than that of the exoticizing foreign anthropologist.