Apr 30, 2013

The Social Media Awards First Ceremony

SMA Awards Trophies. By Nath Halawani

It felt somewhat refreshing to be there with both highlights of having been nominated at the awards earlier at the prequal, and being an event photographer, with that shiny Media access tag on my chest. Last night was the night the Social Media Awards held their first awards ceremony on April 29th evening at the Phoenicia hotel, Beirut.

Mustapha Hamoui, has the looks of a future PM. By Nath Halawani

Hide 'n seek

Just as a relatively large number of attendees, I got invited to the ceremony, and therefore didn't have to pay for the ticket. My invitation was through Lebanon Eguide, a start-up online social venue for travel and leisure around Lebanon and recently, the middle east.

Upon registration at the doors, I met Rana and then found me a chair to leave my two bags at. I had my gorgeous D7000 with the all-time favorite 35/1.8 (for those who are not into photography, this is the combo gear that produces the beautiful pictures you see on my page/blog). Alas, my flatmate was more than kind to hand me his 5D Mark II, a sign of courtesy that I didn't expect. I had asked for it for the sake of the fantastic wide angle it got. I knew that such an event could most certainly use the 24mm angle.

Assaad Thebian. By Nath Halawani

Fantabulous tweeps: Rita Kamel and Sareen Akarjalian. By Nath Halawani

PS: Rest of the pics can be found on both my FB public album and the Lebanon E-Guide page

Clowns at the wrong party

Enough with the technicalities, at a first glance the event seemed to me as the largest hide 'n seek game I ever played, with the twist of not having met the players anytime before, well, most of them. A lot of faces were familiar to me, Twitter was the savior there. I could easily recognize Tarek Haddad, Mohammad Hijazi (can't miss him with that bow-tie), Mustapha Hamoui, Cyril Rouhana and many other tweeps.

On the other hand, many of the people that recognized me were in fact reaching out for that shaggy guy with the two cameras and that lazy beard stuck on his face. Yes I was a mess, but who cares? Oh and, speaking of outfits and dress code, the SMA organizers had made it clear earlier that it's preferable to come well dressed as much as possible in their Dress Code Announcement, a decision that Mustapha had backed up with saying:
"The organizers of the awards have the right to give it whatever personality (marketing mix) they wish. They chose glamour and class, from the beginning, and this is their absolute right.."
I mean, I'm not the kind of a guy to point out such issues, but from what I've seen last night, some girls had taken that rule pretty seriously. At a certain point I was getting really confused, there were moments where all I could see was clowns at the wrong party.

It was to my ultimate happiness to have met a few of the faces that I already knew, among them I remember Aisha Habli, Lynn El Bizri, Hanna Semaan (Abou Sha3r), Soha ItaniDarine Sabbagh, Rita Kamel, Sareen Akarjalian, etc.. Although I had wished to meet Angie Nassar, Christine Krikorian, Anis Tabet, and a whole lot more of the Tweeps that make my TL worth reading.

The Audience with the Media in the back. By Nath Halawani

All for the glam

I hated the part where people stopped me for a photo, confusing me with someone from the event's staff. I was there by my own will, I wasn't taking pictures for anybody else but me, and wasn't getting paid any nickle for it. Speaking of staff, how unorganized was it to see from afar the huge amount of photographers right at the stage bumping into each other trying to snap that glorious shot for their magazine/venue? I felt a bit relieved (at last) when Pierrette Katrib, the host of the show, elegantly asked them to step back, such an awful scene that was. You just couldn't simply look away from those cameras who kept raining flashes on that poor award winner.

On the other hand, I couldn't but turn off the Wifi and use my 3G instead. Having known the large expected number of social media users at the event, shouldn't the venue's administration provided the organizers with a better Wifi connection? It wasn't just me apparently, which broke a slight outrage among the audience when the host asked about the connection, a huge BOO was the answer.

Rita Kamel had tweeted about something that really pushed my buttons as well:
Rita Kamel ‏@ritakml 2h
Wasn't it rude to leave the artists perform in front of empty chairs? #smabeirut #justsaying
The renowned artist with the voice that I'm fond of, Poly, was left to perform in front of empty chairs, literally. I bet the audience thought this was a break, during which they were allowed (expected?) to leave the auditorium til the performance ends. This was a huge downside I wished didn't happen.

Poly, waiting for the technical problem to be solved. By Nath Halawani


I appreciate the effort put into making last night happen, such an effort manifested by the time and resources the organizers had put at hands. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart, for a night that succeeded in bringing together the faces of the online Lebanese community for once, and to shedding light on the growing number of the social media platform among Lebanese youth. Each and every single award was another reason for the winner to feel proud, for the losers to kick ass next year, and for me to feel so proud of people such as Darine, Walid and Mohammad.

Nemr Bou Nassar with a friend, busy tweeting and testing the Tweet Fall on the wall. by Nath Halawani

Apr 26, 2013

Experimental Music in Yukunkun

There definitely were a guitar, a trumpet and a saxophone, yet they were played differently, in a way I had never witnessed ever before. That night was the first time I attended an experimental music concert, such a concert where you get tested on all levels in terms of accepting, questioning, admiring or rejecting the tunes emanating from that bouquet of artists.

I was literally blown away and torn apart by the way that guitarist handled his instrument. Sharif Sehnaoui had the guts and experience as well to place a credit card between the threads, stick a metallic baton in between, and run a brush over them: This was too horrible for an eye to watch. This, to me, was simply my "how to ruin a good guitar in six easy steps".

Mazen Kerbaj
That poor trumpet got its share of the tearing apart and the unbelievable as well. To me, and as common as might be, a trumpet is to be handled with care, diligently played in order to arouse thy senses and expand your momentarily readiness for good music. Alas, that trumpet was dying, was literally cringing in between Mazen's lips.

Bertrand Gauguet was the Yoda of saxophones. His fingers were well placed and his body motion was well-fit for a sax master. Then was the trauma. a saxophone that managed to play basically all sorts of sounds except for the all-eternal soothing sound it is supposed to come up with.

Bertrand Gauguet

Honestly? I take it back. I take it all back. Seconds after stepping out of the Yukunkun, I and my friend Joseph shared the highest compliments on the wowing performance that took place a few moments ago, in front of a dozen or more people, came all the way to Gemmayze to witness the improvisation of three of the best performers I ever met.

I had asked Mazen for permission to snap a few shots while performing. His simple demand for behaving at my best and making the least sound while their volume is at its highest, was objected by Sharif's simple answer to be free as I wanted. Lights were ready, cooling was fixed, and Bertrand signaled the concert's start. Gemmayze was witnessing one of the most elegant forms of unusual methods to making music.
The Audience
I was first alarmed the moment Sharif had laid down his guitar on his lap. A few tools lying here and there around the performers were key to succeed with such a concert: all it took was a few simple tools, yet very intelligently picked tools, and of course knowledgeably put to work. I could distinguish a comb, a piece of a balloon, a few plastic hemispheres, etc..

A confession is due now: I was really taken somewhere else during the course of the set. If it weren't for the photography that I had to do, I would simply had closed my eyes and let that ambiance created by the improvisation emanating from three different sources, yet performing in such a harmony, take my overwhelmed mind somewhere I desperately needed to go to.

Bertrand Gauguet and Sharif Sehnaoui
It was once or twice throughout the concert that I couldn't but peak at the audience, trying to figure out whether their reaction matched mine or not. I was amazed by how everybody was so immersed; the faces were of fond people who knew well the effort put into that improvisation.

Again, can't wait for the next trio's concert; the shock should most probably be less by then.

I leave you with a stench of what happened that night..

Full album can be found on my facebook profile.

Apr 24, 2013

Forward Forum - The Booklet

I've been looking around for a digital copy of the Forward Forum booklet, the recruitment forum that took place last weekend in BIEL, Beirut. I attended for the sake of getting a copy of that booklet, a role I played ever since I was in college, and of course to meet my peers and exhibiting companies. I usually get the booklet and share it among friends, and whoever needs it and for some reason couldn't be there.

Here's an extract of the organizers' webpage:
"After last year's tremendous success and on behalf of CAREERS & E Square –Events & Exhibitions, it gives us great pleasure to invite you to the thirteenth edition of the International Forum for Orientation & Recruitment, FORWARD 2013 and to the third edition of, BUSINESS 2013 which will be both held at BIEL- Lebanon from Thursday, 18th till Sunday, 21st April 2013 and from 4:00 pm till 10:00 pm."
The forum takes place every year, mostly in BIEL, at the beginning of spring season, to encourage the local graduates to undergo a placement each in their suitable spots among vacancies around Lebanon, the Middle East, and more widely, internationally. Personally I have no figures on the percentage of attendees versus those who get offers via the forum, but if it weren't for the sake of paying a visit only, it's a really cool place to meet new people with mutual professional interests, and at the same time having an outlook over some of the well-fit companies, and some of the fresh ones too.

"Whether you are a small company looking to grow or a multinational corporation seeking new prospects, FORWARD offers you the opportunity to:
  • Establish direct recruitment & build a reliable data-base by having face to face contact with more than 50,000 qualified job seekers and university graduates
  • Get the maximum results from a single event
  • Present your institution's recruitment process, policies & needs to the forum's visitors
  • Increase your company awareness and overall exposure
  • Enhance your link with future graduates
  • Benefit from direct contact with thousands of professionals and develop endless possibilities for partnerships
  • Fulfill your role in the society"

Registration at the doors on the first day.
Just as the forum's exhibition space, the booklet is divided into sections, according to the eventual goal a visitor might opt for:
"The exhibition space will exceed 10000 sqm and comprise the following areas:
  • Employment and Internship Area including an international section
  • Education and Training Area including an international section
  • Business Opportunities and Services Area
  • Office Equipments and Supplies Area"

So here it is, a copy of the Forward Forum 2013 booklet, Job vacancies section.

Link here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5NxYgU0gJcaZG9nblpWX3h4dzA/edit
(sorry about the rotation thingy)

Apr 13, 2013

Farewell Erbil

I wrote this on my way back from Erbil:

"Here I am sitting in my plane seat next to a giant human being, waiting for this loud seating dispute between the waiter and a passenger to end before we take off. Yes, the body odor of a sweaty Iraqi is exactly what I had been dreaming of the last two nights to be having on my flight to Beirut. I really miss Beirut, though it's been only three days away.
Kurdistan National Flag. Courtesy of Nath Halawani
Lots of substantial updates took place in my absence. The new PM is the savior we've been all waiting for, it seems. The weather has took another crazy turn the wrong lane. Yesterday it rained as if it were a stormy January night, today it seems it gotten back to miami-like weather: high levels of humidity made sure the hair of every single girl on the shores of Lebanon got a nice unexpected curl.

My trip to Iraq is a business-related trip that cost my company somewhere over 5000$, 1200$ of which went only to the hotel rooms. By business I mean two meetings, 30 minutes each. By meeting I mean a silly superficial presentation to a potential client. By client I mean another snobby manager with his team of technicals who only wants the most for their moderate budget. I was trying to sell our company product for telecom operators in Iraq, and I nailed it.

But this post is not about Beirut, and surely not about my first-time successful business plans (and the only ones actually), it's much more about the two enchanting nights I spent in Erbil, with the company of a few amazing people, the kind of people that makes a place like Erbil the most lovable ever.

Maskouf Fish grilled the Iraqi traditional way. Courtesy of Nath Halawani
I spent my first night with eyes wide open, the need to sleep was nowhere to be found then. Result? A very vague memory of the next morning with a two hour nap in that afternoon. Keep in mind that the first meeting took place on that same morning, when of course I was supposed to be fully energized and ready to kick ass.

I don't hide that I tried to take the chance and close my eyes whenever I could: when waiting in the hotel lobby, in the car on our way to the first client, on the way back to the hotel, etc.. That kept going on until I threw myself on my bed in the afternoon.

Courtesy of Nath Halawani
The citadel of Erbil, one of the greatest monuments there, if not the only, was the highlight of my first day there. With the help of both Botan and Basak, we had the best tour around the citadel. I really enjoyed them telling me their college days stories as they were having classes in a nearby university in Erbil, 10 years ago.

Botan, Waleed and Basak
Outskirts of the Erbil Citadel. Courtesy of Nath Halawani
Downtown, as locals call it. Courtesy of Nath Halawani
Just like in Turkey, Kurdish people are famous for their sweet tooth. One of the most renowned sweets around Iraq and/or Kurdistan is Mann & Salwa. Iraq is known to have the tastiest and highest quality of that sweet delicacy. On the other side, and after that walk around the old souks in Erbil, I couldn't but notice how spread out the Luqum was, otherwise known as Turkish Delights.

Turkish Delights in Erbil. Courtesy of Nath Halawani
Having spent Day #2 in Sulaimaniyyah all drained and powerless, taking photos was the least I thought of doing. It was that spontaneous: Waking up in the morning, checking out from the hotel, meeting with Najib and driving three hours straight all the way to Sulaimaniyyah, where our second meeting would take place. Long story short, it didn't take me long before realizing we were at the airport VIP lounge (VIP my ass btw) waiting for our plane to start boarding.

I am now the most blessed sucker on earth, actually on clouds. What's in front of me can't be simply put in words. Floating on white fluffy clouds with the sun rays hitting exactly your window as in trying to say hi, while the soil below out the window is struck with the most wonderful rain storm ever, is literally all a man like me could ask for. Why is it so hard for a wish like staying dangled herein for a couple hours is so hard to achieve? As my ears start to pop of pressure, and as I keep on blocking the view to the Iraqi next to me, all I could think of was my eternal childhood dream. Yes you got it, the dream of being Superman for a few hours, minutes, let alone a few seconds. I was superman, and I got a few photos to prove it. I cut through clouds as if it were the first time of my life. I had my breath taken for a fraction of a second. I literally started snapping pictures like maniac with my blackberry, something I don't often do."

Apr 9, 2013

Sleepless in Erbil

The view out my window
Now, where else would you find a sleepless blogger on his business trip discussing the reasons on why he's not asleep and getting ready to the next day's busy schedule?

It must be the sudden weather change. I'm sneezing and coughing like crazy ever since I got here. That first moment I stepped foot on Erbil's ground, it kinda took me back to my time in KSA: heavily hot weather, direct burning sunlight and a very dusty atmosphere. A great catalyst for a serious health breakdown, exactly what I'm going through right now. Oh yeah, and the air conditioner is so great I woke up breathless.

On the other hand, that fish we had for dinner? Well, um, here's the story. The fish is called "Maskouf" (مسكوف), a traditional, very famous Kurdish dish that is only found in Erbil, where the fish is cooked for over an hour and a half. I wasn't even surprised to find out that, just like in Mina, Tripoli (my hometown), you get to pick your own fish for the grill.

Maskouf Fish lined up on the grill
You also get to pick your fish out of the muddy pool
Of course, with the help of my colleague Waleed, we managed to finish that medium rare fish we ordered, and between us? I was the reason behind not cooking that fish well. I kept on pushing and nagging on the chef (chef in terms of cook, a fat sweaty old iraqi man with a cigarette in hand) to finish it quickly. How on earth was I expected to wait 90 minutes for my dinner? :-( I told myself I'd rather eat it raw than waiting all that time. Reminder to self: next time, leave it to the cook to decide..

How do I end up spending such nights then? Browsing expensive cameras that I cannot afford, and counting the towels my expensive hotel room has. 

Apr 4, 2013

Pleasure to eyes: A Night At Nahr Ibrahim

*We Own The Light*, Courtesy of Night Collective
At first I thought there will only be 6,7, or 10 of us maximum. We were a convoy at that night.

Yes indeed, that was my first time out with the Night Collective team of photographers. They gather every now and then and spend the night somewhere for the sake of night photography. The wonderful part is wherever they go, their outcome is always fascinating. Having been constantly watching their trips, they surely raised the bar of night photography, well, to me at least.

"Night collective convoy", courtesy of Alain Khoury
More than 25 amazing photographers gathered at several meeting points along the road from Beirut to Nahr Ibrahim. We started out two cars from Beirut, Sin el Fil. The growing number of participating cars grabbed my attention; I knew we weren't a few, not at all. We were about 11 cars at least, according to Gaby, one of the event's organizers.

I threw my Tripod in the back of Rami's car and wore my jacket knowing how cold it would be when we drop off, especially with having a flowing river as your evening's companion.

Tarek Interviewing Antoine, Courtesy of Joseph Saadeh
The evening started with a quick brief to inform new participants of what to expect and with whom to talk to, just in case. Wanna know the funniest part though? It was actually the group photo. I really had a blast only to have a bunch of people knowing exactly how to behave in front of a long exposure shot. No wonder though, eventually they were all photographers :3

"The night scavenger", courtesy of Natheer Halawani
I admit I felt uncomfortable with my gear: All I had was my D7000 and two primes, a 50/1.4 and a 35/1.8, not wide enough to take landscapes, although the large aperture might have been a luring attraction. But, as I always believed, everything happens for a reason: That night was the night I had the chance to try the Rokinon fisheye lens for the first time, and meet a family member. The lens belonged to another Halawani I met there, who was so kind enough to lend me his 350$ lens for the night. Here's one of the best pics I took with the new wide angle lens. It felt like boss!

I was so glad to have been with these people. Meeting NC was the highlight of my week, something that I desperately needed. I personally learned so much that night. I now know what gear to bring next time I go to a night photography excursion. The basic essentials are a tripod (obviously), a laser light to help the camera focus, a headlight to be able to see, and a heavy-duty flashlight for light painting. A wide angle lens is a must, unless all you want to photograph was the flow of the river or a few night portraits.

An enormous shout-out goes out for the organizers, among which I remember Karim Bou Karim and Gaby Nehme. Being an organizer myself, I know how hectic it is to bring together this amount of people, choose a location (and most probably visiting it at least once a few days before), offering help and sacrificing their time for the sake of reaching out for those who need a hand. That was a gigantic effort being put there, and they really deserve the thank yous.

For more info about their activities, here's their Facebook group "Night Collective". As for me, I know I'll join them again and again whenever our plans meet.