Every city smells – and we don’t mean this to say that every city “stinks” as the expression can connote, if used negatively.
We experience a city through all our senses. Some visitors may opt for focussing on the breath-taking sights, others on the culinary specialities that culture has to offer or its local music scene but perhaps one of the most understated of all the senses is the olfactory one that can act as a powerful trigger to the experience as well. French designer, Magalie Sénéquier, actually launched a line of scents directly inspired by the scents of major cities to reflect on the emotional pull they could have in and of themselves.
Oftentimes, we’re not conscious of the smells around us unless they’re especially pleasant (think the smell of freshly cut grass and flowers in bloom) or especially unpleasant (think of the smell that overwhelms you as you drive through Karantina).
We were curious to understand how the streets of our capital Beirut smelled like (or how we perceived them to smell like) so we posed the question on Facebook. The majority of those that contributed unanimously said “Turkish Coffee” followed by “Sea Breeze”, “Construction”, “Jamine Flowers”, “Exhaust Pipes” and “Grilling Meat”. Others opted for more metaphorical expressions.
Through the past week’s theme, “You can almost smell it”, we wanted to take that one step further by observing how different photographers in our community could actually capture a smell and more importantly, allow their viewer to experience it simply by looking at the shot. One interesting result of this exercise was that although photographs (in general) tend to be very universal in their interpretation, it is hard to experience a smell unless one has smelled it before. You may try to imagine, but it goes back to each one’s personal bank of scents that will allow them to relive it through a visual trigger of a photograph.
In selecting the SPOW, we evaluated the shots through our noses before our eyes, taking a literal approach to Bruce Gilden’s “If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, it’s a street photograph” (and in our case “it’s a SPOW”).
Our favorite and most smell-worthy pick was the following by Georgie:
If you’ve ever passed by a street vendor grilling meat, you can automatically imagine this smell – and a strong one at that. The smell is further accentuated by the pathway of the smoke trailing from the meat and covering the face of a bystander waiting for his sandwich. This shot could have be taken on the streets of Germany (where we persume this was taken), Istanbul, Beirut or even NYC and we’d still be able to identify with it.
Add to that an interesting composition that Georgie has created linking the different characters framing the shot and we’d have to say we definitely “smelled” this moment through her shot. Great job!