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U.K. photographer finds beauty in age-old abandoned houses in Lebanon

Inside an abandoned mansion in Beirut’s Basta neighbourhood, British photographer James Kerwin stands with his camera, taking stills of the building’s tall yet cracked windows, its etched ceilings and withered rooftops.

The mansion, located in one of Beirut’s antique districts, is one of many sites captured by the 39-year-old photographer and heritage lover.

Originally from the United Kingdom but based in Tbilisi, Georgia, Kerwin says he has been roaming Lebanon for days, capturing traditional old houses from North to South.

Although abandoned for years, many of Beirut’s old structures are now gathering attention after a deadly blast shattered countless homes and buildings last year, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.

“Because of the focus on architecture over the last one year really, just under a year, because of what happened in Beirut, people got their mind switched on architecture in this country at the minute,” said Kerwin, standing in the abandoned mansion. “I think it’s really a positive thing. I think it’s a step going forward that might help Lebanon.”

Kerwim previously captured ruins in a variety of places, including in countries of the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and South East Asia. He hopes to publish a book soon featuring Lebanon’s abandoned traditional houses.

Lebanon’s old houses are spread all over the coast and across the mountains – single, double, and triple arcades with brick roofs.

While many were neglected during and after the 15-year civil war, some are well preserved and inhabited by families.

“All of the beauty that surrounds us, it’s kind of like stepping back in the past and trying to imagine what was there before,” said Kerwin. “Even without the furniture you could imagine it was a beautiful house, beautiful features, fixtures, fittings, all of this.”

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