SyriaInFocus: A Beginning

Introducing our new series on Syrian photography

28 July 2020

Tovarnik, Croatia, 2015. Photo by Sima Diab
Sima Diab

Sima Diab is an independent Syrian photographer, videographer and photo editor based between Cairo and Beirut. She is the guest editor of SyriaUntold's series on photography, SyriaInFocus.

This series is funded by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

Future history books may write that the Syrian uprising and subsequent war were among  the most well-documented, visually, in modern history. And that Syrian photographers themselves were among the most prolific.

Images are most often consumed rapidly, namelessly and without attribution, or scrolled past, garnering little or no engagement. We often do not take the time to think about these images, what they really mean and why they are photographed in the first place. This is especially true in the context of Syria.

There are a few searing images that have engraved themselves in the psyche of people who have watched the Syrian crisis unfold. The image of Aylan Kurdi, lying lifeless on a Turkish beach. Drone images of bombed-out Syrian hospitals and cities. Columns of people walking northward through Europe, and then westward. But this is not all that Syria is, and for many Syrians, these will never be the images that define a country or a generation.

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Over the next six months at SyriaUntold, we’re starting a new project. We will explore the image-makers of Syria in a photography-focused series called SyriaInFocus. We will speak with Syrian photographers about their roles in documenting the uprising and war, and take a look back at pre-conflict Syria, memory, documentation, propaganda and nostalgia. The series will include long-form articles critiquing visual work, as well as interviews and discussions with the photographers themselves. It will also include photo-stories by Syrian photographers and those images most meaningful to them, explained in their own words. We will hear why those images resonated with them, and what makes them especially personal.

SyriaInFocus aims at dragging some photographs out of the constant mainstream flow of imagery, whether in the news or in social media, and then isolating them, enabling us all to pause and think aloud together.

There has never been a more important time, in this age of information and disinformation, to break down images and study the context in which they were captured, and in some cases the context in which they were subsequently published and received by the general public. We will touch on the personal and the public, and see some truly remarkable photographs.

In publishing this series, we hope to offer the start of a debate, and perhaps a glimpse into the personal worldviews of Syrian photographers who have captured some of the most searing images of their country and its conflict. We want this to be a space, even if only virtually for now, where we can discuss the photographic process, the ethical issues we face as a Syrian photographic community and come together to elevate the conversation around and beyond Syrian photography. We also hope this series inspires the proliferation of other spaces that bring people together to discuss the important issues of our community.

The Syrian documentary photographic community is a young one, and while we have scattered across the globe, oftentimes in very different and difficult circumstances, there is a growing need to unite in a space that we can call our own. One that speaks our language, and the universal language of images, and one that reflects our identities as citizens of humanity foremost, as well as the photographic community to which we belong.

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