If you were like us as a kid, then you and your friends were obsessed with building a time machine. Only your time machine was made from cardboard boxes piled up together, and if you got really creative you would paint yours silver to make it look like as futuristic as possible. Yep, been there done that. Decades later and a dream of getting into a time machine is still at the top of our list, and if it’s still at the top of yours, boy do we have some good news for you.
What would you say if you were able to flashback to Beirut in the year 1915? Would you believe us? Well, Time Box Beirut made that possible.
Well we know we promised you a machine, but with our permitted technology in this day and age a “Time Box” will do just fine! Time Box is an urban trail of 20th century 3D images on the streets of Beirut. If you’ve recently wandered around and noticed a Plexiglas stereoscope scattered on 10 different poles throughout the city – then you’ve come across the Time Boxes. Each one holds one archival stereograph at that exact location where it was originally taken 100 years ago! What exactly do you see when you peek inside these Time Boxes? You see two superposed images that give a 3D effect when viewed through the special lens.
While this Time Box shows you the past – is it possible to see the future? If you take each Time Box in a certain perspective you can also try and predict what Beirut may look like in the future. Each Time Box places the viewer’s point of view in comparison to the original picture, giving you the chance to visualize the past and present and allowing your imagination to run when you try to get a glimpse of the future.
We know your eyes have widened at almost all the details of this exquisite project and you have probably thought to yourself who thought of this idea? Well without further ado, let us introduce you to the creator of Time Box Beirut – Razan Al Salah. The idea of the Time Box project was triggered when Razan was doing an exchange program at Georgetown University and she stumbled upon a street photography collection of Beirut taken by American missionaries in the early 1900’s. But to her, the images seemed a bit bizarre. Each image compromised of two almost identical images stuck together and after quite some research she discovered the basis of what her entire project is today: Stereoscopy. For those who don’t exactly know what it is, it’s a form of photography with the main purpose to create two images of the same scene, one for your right eye to view and the other for your left. The 2 images come together in a stereoscope to create a 3D image. This is a 100-year old technology if you can believe it!
We knew there had to be more to her story than our kid time machine dream so we were lucky enough to reach out to her and ask her a few questions. Of course, the first question had to be how or what inspired you to do this project? Razan explained, “A few years ago, I visited the Dali Museum where I then proceeded into the souvenir shop and found a set of glasses which revealed Dali paintings in 3D. Curious as I am, I looked into the mechanism of the glasses and they held 2 almost identical images of the same scene…as soon as I got home, I replaced Dali’s painting with the early 20th century Beirut Street scene; it felt like I was walking in that street and it was exactly what I wanted: to walk through 1915 Beirut. That’s how TIMEBOX came to me: I had to place these archival stereographs where they were originally taken, in the street, for people to physically walk through 1915 Beirut. I proposed the idea to Lotfi, my brother, and he came up with the amazing TIMEBOX design, a modern Plexiglas stereoscope that latches on a street pole.”
Razan and Lotfi in their home capital
As a matter of fact, this isn’t Razan’s first project regarding Lebanese history. She has worked on a documentary series called Zakirat Makan which are short documentaries collecting the memory of iconic places around Lebanon. Razan explained, “I’m very interested in this kind of work: investigating the complexity behind the charm, understanding places and (re)connecting with it.”
With such a strong love for Beirut’s history it made sense to ask her what time period was her favorite. “I must admit I am envious of those who were young in 1960s Beirut.” So are we!
With such passion for her work, we are eager to see what’s in store for the future or if there are any current projects in the making. Brace yourselves there is more! Razan is an MFA candidate in Film and Media Arts. TIMEBOX is her 1st year project and she has 2 more major projects on the way. Both are on-location installations investigating private and public spaces vis-à-vis fact, fiction, and collective myths – so stay tuned!
For a full listing of locations where you can find the stereoscopes in Beirut visit timeboxbeirut.com or get more info on their official Facebook page (facebook.com/timeboxbeirut)