I think women can understand other women more than a man would. In some way, our womanhood bonds us.
Rania Matar is a Lebanese-born American photographer whose evocative work focuses on and documents the lives and experiences of women and girls.
Born in Lebanon in 1964, Rania spent her early life in Beirut and grew up in the shadow of the Lebanese Civil War. She originally studied architecture at the American University of Beirut and, after moving to the USA in 1984, at Cornell University in New York. Having discovered an affinity with the photographic image when taking pictures of her young children, she then went on to study photography at the New England School of Photography and the Maine Photographic Workshops.
Rania’s own experiences – of being born and raised in Lebanon but also of living in America, of being a woman and of being a mother – are what inform and inspire her photography. She has dedicated her work to documenting the lives of women and girls through photographs which explore the female experience from childhood to old age, both in the USA and in the Middle East.
Her first book, Ordinary Lives, was published in 2009. In a series of powerful black and white images, Rania documents the lives of the women and girls in post-war Lebanon and its subsequent atmosphere of political and social unrest. While conveying the undeniable presence of war, loss and hardship in the lives of the subjects, her photographs also demonstrate their strength and humanity.
In 2012 Rania published her second book, A Girl and Her Room. In this work, she examines the lives and identities of teenage girls from two contrasting cultures – the USA and Lebanon. The concept for the book grew out of her photographing her own teenage daughters and their friends. She then sought out girls from varying backgrounds, first at home in America and then in the Middle East, hoping to develop with them the same connection and collaborative process she’d enjoyed with her daughters and their friends. She asked the young women to choose their own poses, props and backgrounds, allowing them to be themselves and control the way in which they are depicted.
The book’s portraits reveal much about the lives and personalities of the girls in them by portraying them in their own personal space – their bedrooms. The space is just as important as the sitter in revealing her identity and her sense of self. By studying the bedroom and objects of daily life contained therein, the viewer learns much about the girl who occupies it. In her review of the book, Maria Popova said: “Both visually stunning and culturally captivating, A Girl and her Room, offers a rare vista into one piece of what it means to grow up as a girl and to metamorphose into a woman”.
Published in 2016, Rania’s third book, L’Enfant Femme, concentrates on capturing the complex transition between girlhood and maturity. The 97 subjects aged between 8 and 13 are on the cusp of adolescence and from various social and cultural backgrounds. Writing in the book’s forward, Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan said that Rania “exposes the boundaries of American and Arab cultures in order to reconcile them. They are not simply American; they are not simply Arab; neither are they simply Muslim, Christian, nor Jewish. These girls are simply girls – but much more besides.” Rania specifically asked each subject not to smile. Consequently, the girls react to the camera in a way unfamiliar to them and the resultant intimate photographs beautifully capture their developing self-awareness and individual personalities.
Rania’s work has won a number of prestigious awards and is widely critically acclaimed. It has featured in innumerable publications and is exhibited extensively both in the USA and internationally. It also features in the permanent exhibitions of several museums and in private collections.
Two of her most notable exhibitions are Unspoken Conversations, a series in which she explored the relationship between mothers and daughters, and Invisible Children, which developed out of a visit to Beirut in 2014 during which she realised how many Syrian refugees were destitute, orphaned and begging on the streets. Her first solo museum exhibition, In Her Image, a collection of four projects, is currently on show at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Texas.
Rania began teaching photography in 2009, providing summer workshops to young girls in Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps. She now teaches Personal Documentary Photography and Portrait and Identity at the Massachusettes College of Art and Design.
©The Heroine Collective 2016 – Present, All Rights Reserved. Every effort is made to ensure our articles are as accurate as they can possibly can be, but if you notice a factual error, please do be in touch. We only use images we believe are either in the public domain or images we believe we are able to use for illustrative, editorial and non-commercial purposes. If you believe one of our images is being used incorrectly, please be in touch. References include Rania’s website, the Arab American Museum, 500 photographers bloodspot, Hunger TV, The Washington Post and Vice.