The arteries of Lebanon are filled with graffiti and street art. Before it earned the respect and international recognition conferred by the art market, this art form was – and in many circles still is – considered to be vandalism.
Street art, in the words of Lebanese street artist Ali Rafei, “invaded private and public property.”
Like Yazan, Phat2, Zepha or Ashekman, Rafei is a recognized member of the country’s street art scene. Most of his work can be seen in the Ras Beirut neighborhood, and in the northern city of Tripoli.
He first began leaving his mark on urban fabric in 2010. Then in 2012 Rafei decided to enroll in the University of Leeds’s MA program in advertising.
He performed many maneuvers to stay in the U.K. but that didn’t work out. He’s been back in Lebanon since the beginning of the year.
Rafei’s street art veers from freehand portraiture to Arabic calligraphy to stencil work.
His most-recent stencil art can be seen off Hamra, on Abdel Aziz Street.
It portrays a man in a suit holding a balloon on which is written “Ana” (“Me” in Arabic). Next to the adult a child is straining to pop his balloon.
As Rafei explained, this work is a reflection on egoism. “I did it in a risky place,” he said.
“There is a message and I wanted it to be exposed. I didn’t want it to be hidden.”
This piece captured the attention of a nearby security guard, who kept asking Rafei and his friend what the point of the gesture was and why they were doing it.
The Argania tree is not the most aesthetically pleasing plant in the world with a rough, thorny bark and gangly, crooked branches, but the Moroccan arbor still tends to attract admirers thanks in large part to the hordes of goats that can usually be found perching in them.
Grown almost exclusively in Morocco, the Argania is a rare and protected species after years of over-farming and clear-cutting.
The tree produces an annual fruit crop. It is this delicious morsel that attracts legions of local goats who hop up into the branches to pick them out. Like an image out of a goat-cast wire-fu film, the animals stand on the impossibly precarious branches and get down to their seasonal feast.
Far from just a single ambitious goat climbing a single tree, the animals tend to swarm into the branches in number.
Local farmers condone and even cultivate this bizarre feeding practice, keeping the goats away from the trees while the fruit matures and releasing them at the right time.
There is also a secondary benefit to the goats’ habits which is found in their poop.
After the goats finish eating the fruit and nuts off the tree, they pass valuable clumps of seeds which are then pressed to create the sought after Argan oil.
Unfortunately, since the tree goats can be quite profitable for their owners, more and more of them have been brought into the area causing a general decline in the health of the remaining Argania trees.
Hopefully the delightful tree goats won’t eat themselves out of a tree to perch in.
A newcomer like me gets knocked down a lot’ … Michael Nichols’ photograph of orphaned elephants in Kenya. Click here to see full image. Photograph: National Geographic Creative/Corbis
Interview by Kate Abbott
These baby elephants have all lost their mothers. They were either killed by ivory poachers, or they fell in wells while trying to get water. The babies are at an orphanage in Nairobi.
When a new one comes in, it’s utterly traumatised: only one in 10 survives.
The most bizarre thing about these orphans is that the older ones take care of the new arrivals. The elephants lying down are just two years old, but they’ve become matriarchs – 20 years too soon.
The one with its foot up is nine months old. His elders are lying there saying: “Hey, you can get on us!” This is exactly how they play in the wild. Being sociable and protective is something elephants do naturally. It tears your heart out.
There are about 50 elephants at the orphanage, run by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and they have qualified keepers, men from local villages.
It’s one of the most dangerous professions on Earth, yet the Sheldrick keepers never strike the animals – unlike in zoos where control is done by force, with electric shocks, sharp objects or water deprivation.
The keepers rarely let strangers in because it’s a pain in the ass protecting them. A newcomer like me gets knocked down a lot. I wanted the animals to quit paying attention to me, so I could focus on my photographs instead of just trying to stay upright.
By the time I took this, I’d been there three weeks, and the elephants knew me.