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By Sherine Bouez,
Chief Executive Officer and entrepreneur Michel Zoghzoghi heads Dima Healthcare in Beirut, Lebanon. Seven years ago, he fell in love with photography and has since turned his passion into a useful tool for the promotion of wildlife conservation and the support of charitable organizations, in addition to attending to his usual professional functions.
Heading the family business in medical equipment and supply services, Zoghzoghi juggles managing over a hundred employees, and spending hours to capture the perfect shot, capable of conveying a powerful message. Dima Healthcare and Byblos Bank sponsored his latest photography exhibition that took place in February 2012 in Beirut, ‘Prey’. The total proceeds of sales of the photographs were donated to the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL), an affiliate of St. Jude’s Children Research Hospital in Memphis, U.S.A. The Center depends on donations, and provides access to free treatment and care to all children with cancer in Lebanon and the region without discrimination. A perfect match for Zoghzoghi, who elucidates that tolerance, is at the top of his corporate social responsibility’s agenda. Rather than simply ‘speak to the chorus’, the photographer’s wish is to reach the many people who are not exposed to the animal kingdom or have never come into contact with nature in the wild.
In ‘Prey’, he familiarizes us with predators and sceneries from all over the world, including destinations such as Kenya, India, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Canada, or Alaska, to name a few. Large portraits of lions, jaguars, leopards, polar bears, and other predators make visitors feel they are in the midst of wilderness at close range. ‘Prey’ has been a huge success, and the photographer explains that this is just the beginning.
Sherine Bouez: What is the role of photography in the preservation of our environment?
Michel Zoghzoghi : At the exhibition, visitors realized the extent of beauty found in nature. Most importantly, they identified with the animals portrayed here as the images reflect tenderness and other emotions that we, as human beings, can easily relate to. They do not deserve to live any less than we do. People do not always have the chance to see animals in their natural habitat and don’t have much knowledge about who they are, how they live, and how they relate to each other, to humans, or to the environment. If people can’t be in nature, I intend, through my pictures, to bring nature to them. The role of photography is very powerful in nature preservation, and I would urge anyone who has the patience, gift, and willingness, to give it at least a try. Seeing animals in the wild and interacting with them is completely different from watching them at the circus or the zoo! I want to touch people’s hearts and minds, to trigger something inside of them that could inspire them to act.
S.B: Which cause primarily drives your passion and why?
M.Z: Many causes need attention and are important to me; at the moment the closest to my heart is that of preserving predators. The most powerful predator is also very ‘human’ in the way he relates to others.
As I write in my book, ‘It is impossible to be indifferent to the dedication of a mother who struggles against all the odds- a pitiless climate, a diminishing habitat, a territory full of dangerous rivals- to raise her cubs’.
Big cats are the most endangered predators. I feel they epitomize the spirit of the threatened animal since they convey a message of infinite strength, but also extreme fragility nowadays. All the proceeds of my photographic work go to causes related to humans, animals, or the environment, and I particularly like to support children, who are also so delicate yet such a powerful force in ‘building’ the future. I am also concerned with protecting a human being’s dignity by supporting families that have no access to funding or find themselves in unfortunate circumstances where they are too embarrassed to ask for help. As the head of a company, life is certainly hectic, but one can always make time on more important grounds.
S.B: How do you intend to perpetuate your charitable work in the short run?
M.Z: ‘Prey’ will possibly soon show in Dubai and Paris with some new material. I am also working on a book with the aim of conveying a message of tolerance. Human beings are not better than any other living beings, just as the latter are not better or superior to us. The format of the book will be similar to that of the ‘Prey’ exhibition, with around eight chapters on predators, and a chapter entirely devoted to the Masai Mara reserve in Kenya.
I am writing the introduction myself, however, each guide who has taken me to ‘his’ predators will write his own respective section. I admire those who devote several decades to such a noble cause as overseeing the lives of predators and imparting their extensive knowledge about nature’s harmonious workings. They have an intimate connection with animals, but also with trees, plants, the air, or soil, a wisdom we have become estranged to, and can perceive the slightest signs or changes needed to predict behaviour, protect nature, or prepare for contact. Whether on a global level or on a regional front I believe the main drivers for harmony and evolution are education, education, and education!
When Zoghzoghi was asked whether we could learn anything from the animal kingdom, he replied: ‘honorability’. His take is that animals only kill for food and let nature be once their basic needs are met. A lion, with all the power that is in his hands, will demonstrate grace by not eating a gazelle in his reach if he has just had his ratio of food, a humbling realization indeed. Zoghzoghi’s emotional portrayals convey brittleness and the fact that the balance of this ecosystem can easily be tilted by man in either direction, but ‘it is their planet too’ he voices.
Source: World Environment Magazine