Said Otruk is a Palestinian refugee from Acre who now lives at the center of the old souk in the port town of Sidon. “This is me,” he says, gesturing to a frayed photo pasted on
the window of his electrical shop. The small sepia figures in the image are gathered by a dock and the shards of light on the surface of the sea appear illuminated by what, in
this dark alley in south Lebanon, seems an almost other-worldly radiance; the midday sun over Acre in 1948. Said points to a few words in the top right hand corner: “al ayam
thahabiyye”. “These were the golden days,” he reiterates as he turns back to his worktable. “I remember it all as if it were yesterday – I look at this photo and imagine myself
there, this is life… The eye sees but the hand does not reach.”
Photo48 collects together personal photos, like Said’s,
that have survived the displacement of 1948. The importance of preserving these intimate remnants of a history now largely invisible within a larger global frame of reference,
cannot be underestimated as Palestine as a historical signifier is in danger of losing it’s signified. Palestine as it was before 1948 has ceased to exist; Acre is no longer a
Palestinian port and the other histories of this city, like this visible reminder taped to Said’s window, circulate as highly personal, scattered memories. This book proposal is
the first to focus specifically on the photos and memories of Palestinians from the camps (as opposed to photos of the Palestinian elite, about which several books have been
published) brings together a powerful collection of images and narratives that bear witness to the ongoing legacy of 1948 in the lives of refugees in the diaspora today. Each
image in Photo48 will be accompanied by an anecdote that offers the reader a glimpse into what everyday life was like in pre-1948 Palestine.
For elders from the generation of 1948 who remember
Palestine, these photographs are objects of affective transference: they evoke memories of the past that remain crucial to a present sense of self. While some refugees like Said
publicly display their photos, others nest them in a breast pocket, or keep them out of sight for safekeeping. One elderly man now living in the Beqa who had worked for the
Palestine police under the British mandate, produced a box of negatives from his time in service that had remained undeveloped under his bed for 57 years. When we persuaded him to
let us print the images, the results – which will be featured in the book – were extraordinary. As sacred objects in the lives of refugees today, these pictures and the ways in
which they are kept, have come to record another history of relation and belonging – the creases and tattered edges show years of careful handling and of longing. Photo48 showcases these photos therefore not simply as
souvenirs, or representations – but as imprints of Palestine that, for their owners, carry material traces of places and people from the past within them.
A project initiated by the Nakba Archive, an independent cultural, collective run by Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Photo48 serves as an unprecedented initiative—a visual
document of histories long overlooked. Under the co-directorship of Diana Allan from Harvard University and Mahmoud Zeidan in Lebanon, the Nakba-Archive has, to date, recorded
around 500 testimonies on film with first generation refugees about their memories of 1948 and their communities prior to the displacement. Photo48, a100 page photo book proposal
grows directly from this archival project. A series of these photo narratives were printed in the fall 2005 issue of Bidoun.