Photographer Van Leo Receives Prince Claus Award

CAIRO–Renowned Egyptian-Armenian photographer Van Leo (Levon Boyadjian) was presented the Prince Claus Award on December 12. The award was handed to Mr. Van Leo in Cairo by the Dutch ambassador to Egypt–H.E Sjoord Leenstra.

Levon Boyadjian was born in Jihane (Turkey) in 1921–and moved to Egypt in 1924. He was the assistant to the photographer Artinian and worked at the American University of Cairo. In 1941 he and his brother Angelo opened their own studio at their parent’s house. Both Angelo and Levon worked on taking portraits of local and foreign singers and dancers. In 1947–the brothers’ partnership broke and Van Leo bought "Studio Metro" and later changed it to studio "Van Leo," a composite name he derived from his first name Levon. The new location–central to the arts and entertainment industry–allowed Van Leo to take thousands portraits of artists during that period.

Nevertheless–Van Leo always refused to work for people in power. He criticized photographers who often sought publicity–associating their names to the king or the president–giving themselves titles such as "photographer of his majesty the king" or "photographer of the court."

Van Leo’s experimental attitude was and continues to be rare among photographers in the Arab World. Back in the 1940s–Leo took more than four hundred self-portraits–disguised in four hundred different characters. There has not been anything like this quantity in the history of photography in the Middle East. Van Leo used photography to display multiple images of him–assuming different identities. At a time when nationalism was on the rise in Egypt–Van Leo was encouraging and promoting multiplicity in the look (people’s faade)–as well as in the ethnic and religious backgrounds of Egyptians. He is the antithesis of "nationalism"–even in a period when such slogans were high up on every occasion. His work has survived until this day to mark the history of photography in Egypt–where it remains unique–unprecedented.

The Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development (The Netherlands) annually presents the Prince Claus Award to artists and intellectuals–and to organizations engaged in culture. The award recognizes exceptional achievemen’s in the field of culture and development. Both the quality of work and its positive effects in the cultural or wider social field are of crucial importance in the selection of recipients.

The Fund stimulates and supports activities in the field of culture and development by granting awards–funding and producing publications and by financing and promoting networks and innovative cultural activities. Support is given both to persons and to organizations in African–Asian–Latin America and Caribbean countries. Equality–respect and trust are the essential parameters of such partnerships; quality and innovation are the preconditions for support.

The Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development was established to mark the 70th birthday of HRH Prince Claus of the Netherlands on 6 September 1996. It represents an appreciation of his lifelong efforts stressing the importance of culture in international cooperation and of his achievemen’s in this field.

The Arab Image Foundation (Lebanon) had nominated Leo for the award earlier in the summer. The foundation is a non-profit organization established in Lebanon since 1997. The Foundation aims to promote photography in the Middle East and North Africa by locating–collecting–and preserving the region’s photographic heritage. The Foundation is planning on opening its new location in Beirut in 2001. Part of the Foundation’s funding is provided by the Lebanese Audi Bank–and by private donors. The Prince Claus Fund (The Netherlands) funded part of the photographic research in the year 2000. The Getty Grant Program and the Ford Foundation also fund the organization’s various projects.

An exhibition of Leo’s work will be held by the Arab Image Foundation until January 4 2001 at the Townhouse Gallery of Cairo.


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