In June, Left Bank Books held a book signing for St. Louis native Christina Hawatmeh, one of the few in-person author events held since the pandemic began. Coincidentally, the pandemic is precisely what Hawatmeh’s book is about. The Year Time Stopped, The Global Pandemic in Photos, features 200 photographs from around the world depicting the beauty and the turbulence of 2020.
Hawatmeh, who grew up in West County, now divides her time between New York and L.A. After earning her graduate degree at Columbia University, she was unable to find funding for her start-up idea in New York. She then applied for a St. Louis-based Arch Grant, and in 2015 was awarded $50,000 to build Scopio, a community-based image marketplace, where people around the world share their photographs and stories. “Anyone, anywhere can share images and get hired for their creative skills on Scopio in less than 3 minutes.”
To date, 15,000 photographers from 193 countries have posted 1,000,000 photographs on the site. The photographs can be purchased as “high-quality, authentic images, and as NFTs (non-fungible tokens).”
Since the launch of Scopio, Hawatmeh has been recognized as the first woman to create an NFT photography marketplace. She was also featured in Business Insider and Forbes Magazine, and finally got that N.Y. recognition she missed out on earlier, when New York Finance named her one of 2021’s “Top Entrepreneurs to Follow.”
A book wasn’t in the plans for Hawatmeh and Scopio CPO Nour Chamoun, but to their surprise their large social media presence attracted the attention of publisher Harper Collins, and so they forged ahead. They sifted through thousands of photographs to find the best that told the story of the tumultuous year. Their book offers “an unforgettable visual history that captures the world’s response to major events that defined 2020— from COVID to sweeping movements for racial and social justice.” (Here is a link to portions of the book accompanied by audio from the photographers.)
After the signing, I asked Hawatmeh how she felt about the event: “Bringing this book to St. Louis and Left Bank Books was a milestone for me.” she said. “And having so many family members and friends in the audience was wonderful. I had asked St. Louis-based comedian Brandon Taylor, above left, to join the discussion as I thought he would make light of the seriousness of the subject matter. What happened in 2020 is hard to talk about. We all have intense personal feelings about that year.”
Left Bank Books’ Event Coordinator Shane Mullen, who introduced Hawatmeh, also weighed in on the event adding that he was most intrigued by the book’s photography which helps grasp the world beyond the bubbles we were all forced to live in during 2020.
The Year Time Stopped, The Global Pandemic in Photos, $29.99, at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid, Mon.-Sat. 10 to 8, Sun. 11 to 6.
P.S. – I have just learned that the day after the book signing reported above, Left Bank Books held a follow-up event downtown at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral for the Lebanese community. A few of the photographs in The Year Time Stopped feature the 2020 Lebanon Port Explosion and the resulting economic crisis. The event was an opportunity for the expat community here in St. Louis to share stories about that catastrophe.