Rania Matar was born and raised in Lebanon and moved to the U.S. in 1984. Originally trained as an architect at the American University of Beirut and at Cornell University, she studied photography at the New England School of Photography and the Maine Photographic Workshops. She teaches photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. She also teaches photography in the summers to teenage girls in Lebanon’s refugee camps with the assistance of non-governmental organizations and regularly offers talks, class visits and lectures at museums, galleries, schools and colleges in the US and abroad.
Matar’s work focuses mainly on girls and women. Earlier projects recorded the lives of women and children in the Middle East, and over the past three years she has completed A Girl and Her Room and started a new project L’Enfant-Femme. Her work has won several awards, has been featured in numerous publications, and exhibited widely in the U.S. and internationally. Her images are in the permanent collections of several museums worldwide.
Her first book titled Ordinary Lives was released October 2009, published by the Quantuck Lane Press and distributed by W.W. Norton. Rania’s latest monograph, A Girl and Her Room, published by Umbrage Editions was released in May 2012.
This project is about teenage girls and young women at a transitional time of their lives, alone in the privacy of their own personal space and surroundings: their bedroom, a womb within the outside world.
As a mother of a teenage daughter I watch her passage from girlhood into adulthood, fascinated with the transformation taking place, the adult personality shaping up and a self-consciousness now replacing the carefree world she had known and lived in so far. I started photographing her and her girlfriends, and quickly realized that they were very aware of each other’s presence, and that their being in a group affected very much whom they were portraying to the world. From there, emerged the idea of photographing each girl alone in her personal space.
I spend time with each girl, so she is comfortable with me and eventually the photography session becomes a beautiful and intimate collaboration. I was discovering a person on the cusp on becoming an adult, but desperately holding on to the child she barely outgrew, a person on the edge between two worlds, trying to come to terms with this transitional time in her life and adjust to the person she is turning into. Posters of rock stars, political leaders or top models were displayed above a bed covered with stuffed animals; mirrors were an important part of the room, a reflection of the girls’ image to the world; personal objects, photos, clothes everywhere, chaotic jumbles of pink and black make-up and just stuff, seemed to give a sense of security and warmth to the room like a womb within the outside world.
I initially started this work focusing on teenage girls in the United States and eventually expanded the project to include girls from the two worlds I am most familiar with, the two worlds I experienced myself as a teen and a young twenty year old: the United States and the Middle East. This is how this project became very personal to me. I became fascinated with the similar issues girls at that age face, regardless of culture, religion and background, as they learn to deal with all the pressures that arise as they become consciously aware of the surrounding world wherever this may be.
Being with those young women in the privacy of their world gave me a unique peek into their private lives and their real selves. They sense that I am not judging them and become an active part of the project. I just follow their lead. I thank every one of them for their trust and precious collaboration.