Welcome to a world governed by line, form, and color. Enter one of Serge Najjar’s square frames and end up in an isolated dreamscape—high above the ground, outside of time, and punctuated by the suspended motion of a stranger.
I stumbled into this world myself through the Instagram rabbit hole and have been curious about these images ever since. @Serjios, as Najjar identifies on Instagram, doesn’t post captions with his photos, adding to their intrigue. Hooked by his consistent style, I reached out to him for the story behind these scenes.
“It started four years ago,” he says of his interest in photography. He’s a practicing lawyer, but his mother signed him and his brother up for a photo course her friend was running. “I was immediately obsessed by architecture,” he says.
Najjar’s home in Beirut is rife with opportunities to explore that interest. Once referred to as the Paris of the Middle East, the Lebanese capital city has a unique architectural history but is also undergoing a lot of change. “Since the 1990s, there has been a massive reconstruction of Beirut,” he says, explaining that the end of Lebanon’s civil war prompted a lot of rebuilding. “Some projects have been wonderfully executed by big architects; other projects are more commercial and lack an architectural identity.”
However people perceive these changes, Najjar believes there’s beauty to be found. “The common or the ugly may not be as boring as we all think it is,” he says. “I try to look at my country with a smile in my heart to show people that there is a thin line between the ordinary and the extraordinary.”
Practically speaking, he uses light, shadow, line, and scale to create art out of reality. “A good image is a combination of many little details,” he says. “Very often, all those details are the result of patience and chance.” But with one caveat: “Sometimes a picture is a success because all the rules have been broken.”
Busy with his family and a hectic job, Najjar doesn’t have a lot of free time. He rises at 5 a.m. on weekend mornings, driving randomly to different locations in Lebanon to explore and look for photos. “It can take five seconds or it can take the whole morning. I sometimes get back home depressed because I was unable to capture an image. But when I see an image, I would do anything to capture it.”
The high vantage point of many of his images is achieved through “crazy” measures. “I might get inside strange buildings or even climb trees,” he says. He’s sought special permission in locations like the Port of Beirut, but he says that the hassle is often not worth it. “The best pictures are the non-prepared ones.”
The people in his photos are strangers that he sees at the scene. Sometimes when he wants to get close he uses a 300mm lens. (He uses a variety of digital and film cameras, then later posts the photos on Instagram.) At other times he interacts with the people in the images more intimately, asking them to hold their pose for a moment. If they aren’t interested, he just moves on. “Many of my photographs include workers who live inside the building they are constructing. It is their temporary home. When they finish their task, they just leave to another project, another building or villa. And it goes on and on like this. I find this concept interesting. I am the witness of this temporary state,” he says.
I asked Najaar if he ever thinks about leaving law to work full time as a photographer. His answer, in short, was no. “I enjoy photography because it is not my job. If it was my job I’m afraid I might lose the freedom of photographing whatever I want, whenever I want,” he says. “Photography helps me look at my country with new eyes … It gives me wings and keeps my liberty intact.”
For more surreal frames, follow @Serjios on Instagram.