The Incredible Photos Capturing the Potent Beauty of Mecca
Toufic Beyhum’s rare insight in to the Hajj
Sarah Ben Romdane
Self-taught Lebanese photographer Toufic Beyhum left his home country as a child—during the 1983 civil war—and moved to the UK where his parents, who are both art lovers and collectors, raised him.
Influenced by his household but unsure of what path he should take, Beyhum decided to enrol at an art school. “I was in the library and I recall picking up a photography book titled Beirut: A city In Crisis by Don McCullin.”, He says, “This is when I realised I wanted to capture disappearing traces of cultures so I could link my creative mind to my inherent political interests”.
Ever since, Beyhum has been driven creatively by his thirst for documenting how society has evolved in our modern world.
In 2011, he embarked on a spiritual adventure to Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, but he initially had no intentions to document his personal journey. Luckily, just before leaving, his wife advised him to take his Hasselblad film camera with him to capture a warmer set of images, as most modern photos of the pilgrimage are shot with phones. “The Hasselblad has been to the moon, it had to go to Mecca”, he says.
Beyhum’s mesmerizing shots translate both the human and emotional intensity of the sacred pilgrimage, as well as the massive and unprecedented transformation of Mecca. Over the past century, Mecca has drastically changed with towering skyscrapers and luxury hotels dominating the perimeters, essentially undermining the history of the holy city. “The Kaaba is being steadily swallowed up by all the modern skyscrapers, hotels, and malls in the background. I deliberately included these constructions in my frame to show how fast and how scary globalization can occur”, explains Beyhum.
Beyhum’s powerful coverage of the Hajj isn’t only intimate – it’s rare. In the Mosque, taking pictures is actually forbidden, so Beyhum had to smuggle his camera in and sneakily take pictures. “My camera was in a plastic bag wrapped in a towel. A policeman stopped me and found it. I told him it’s my grandfather’s old camera and that I’m getting it repaired, and he fell for it! I just wanted to be able to show that despite the changes, how beautiful, grand and overwhelming the Hajj feels from the inside”.