An aerial photographer on a mission to change Lebanon’s conflict narrative

Carlos Haidamous loved going to the airports. He loved to see the planes fly and explore the cockpits, and today, he is a filmmaker, aerial photographer and cinematographer who specializes in filming using drones. 

“I learned about drones when they were just released. Before I got my first drone, the main manufacturer of drones which is DJI, ‘the shark of the market,’ had only released their first drone and then a year later I got their second one,” said Haidamous. 

Haidamous’ love for drones, coupled with his passion for photography and cinema, distinguishes him from other photographers – the feedback he receives from his audiences is evidence of that.

“I get that comment a lot that, ‘You have an identity in your pictures. There is something different,’” said Haidamous. 

Most of Haidamous’ filmmaking has been in Lebanon showcasing the beauty of the country. The mainstream media, in general, largely showcases the conflict or bad news concerning Lebanon. As he puts it, it doesn’t show the beautiful side of Lebanon.

“I used to search for Lebanon on Google and you got some beautiful pictures, nightlife, everything related to that. Now you look for Lebanon, just the keyword ‘Lebanon,’ on Google, all what you get is the explosion,” he said. 

These negative images are what triggered in Haidamous a true sense of duty and urgency as a local, who knows how beautiful Lebanon is, to try and change such narratives.

“We’re famous for the Beirut explosion — that very unfortunate event because everybody saw it. All the videos, they went viral and all over. I don’t want to deny that this happened. But Lebanon is not just the Beirut explosion, it’s much more than that,” said Haidamous.  

Haidamous’ creative process of taking pictures is a long, comprehensive one. It starts with him choosing a place or an event and looking at what has been shot already. He also likes to familiarize himself with the place, especially one he’s unfamiliar with, to be able to come up with the best angles to shoot. 

“With drone photography, you got so many angles that you can shoot from, but there are very few angles that are the best — top, amazing angles that will give you the best possible results so I look for that,” said Haidamous, who usually spends a day or two shooting videos and photographs. 

Then comes the editing part, which Haidamous admits can sometimes take up a notoriously long time. For example, a picture he took in Harissa, a Christian pilgrimage site located north of Beirut and dedicated to Our Lady of Lebanon, was a difficult image to edit, taking around a week to complete.

Next comes decision-making and organization. Of the hundreds of pictures that he shoots, Haidamous selects 20-30 pictures that would go on his Instagram and much fewer numbers that go on his website as prints. 

Finally comes the mockup stage where only the most eye-catching photos win a place on his Instagram feed. 

Haidamous’ photographs taken during the revolution and the explosion went viral and earned him a spot as a featured artist in the Echoes from Lebanon exhibit. 

The first one, “The Cedars of Hope,” was taken on Nov. 22, 2019 (Lebanon’s Independence Day), when a bunch of people gathered around “candles of hope” that took the shape of a cedar tree — in a rather spontaneous act.  

Titled “The Cedars of Hope.” Photo: Carlos Haidamous

“Somebody decided, ‘I want to bring candles and I want to create a cedar tree of these candles,’ and everybody gathered around that person and they helped them out and they created this beautiful cedar tree out of candles, which was very symbolic, especially at that moment,” said Haidamous. 

He explained how cedar trees are a symbol of resilience in Lebanon and those candles represented the strength of the Lebanese people during the difficult times of the revolution. 

“You can see unity in it, a lot of it,” he said.

The second picture, “Port view,” is that of the explosion at the Port of Beirut. 

Titled “Port view.” Photo: Carlos Haidamous

“You can see a ship that is laying on the water. It’s not upright. It’s like a dead fish. So I think this ship tells the whole story,” said Haidamous, who explains how this picture too is symbolic of how massive the explosion was.

Haidamous took this port view picture 10 days after the explosion, which he admits was very difficult for him to do because his city was in shambles.  

“People rushed to film, to take pictures, to get content, to go viral. I didn’t want that and I couldn’t do that at the beginning because it’s so hard to see your city all broken down,” he said, “[but then] I decided that no, this should be documented … to be able to remember what happened. … And the rest I kept it archived in my possession to keep an evidence of what happened because now if you go to Beirut, it’s as if nothing happened. There are only the silos, [which] they also tried to take down.” 

Through his photographs, Haidamous wants people to know and understand the story behind the exhibit, a piece of a puzzle that he believes he is a part of. 

“It’s our story. It’s my story. It’s every Lebanese’s story, from revolution to explosion … to the aftermath of the explosion and to the hope that the Lebanese people have. So it’s a story that starts in 2019 and continues onwards. And it’s available for everyone and globally around the world. Everybody can see it.”