I went to Syria in the spring of 2013 as well as refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Since then, the violence has become even worse. Below is an excerpt from the introduction to the book “Syria: Refugees and Rebels”, which is an account of my experience and focuses very much on telling the human story of this conflict. The book is available at Amazon www.amazon.com/dp/8890976306/
Introduction and Photographs
When I decided to go to Syria it was my intention to understand better what this conflict is all about and capture what I would see through the lens of my camera. I have a Syrian friend, Mustafa, at the time he was living here in Switzerland and he was always telling me about what was happening in Syria. He had already been back once since the revolution began and he was planning to return. As we spoke, the plan took shape for me to go with him and capture as best I could a photo documentary of what I would see. There was a lot of planning, you don’t just walk into a war zone and present yourself. A lot of work was done beforehand, making contacts and organizing our security.
Finally, after weeks of planning we were ready. With a backpack and my camera in hand, I stepped into an unknown and unpredictable world ready to capture the world as I see it. Each image is a distillation of my impressions and feelings about what I saw. I try and convey the huge emotional impact of being in a war zone and the effect it has on the people of Syria; those who stay in the country and those who have fled to refugee camps.
The biggest impact for me was the children. When I crossed the border from Kilis in Turkey I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I knew that directly on the other side of the border, in Syria, was Bab al Salam refugee camp. I have a motto ‘expect the unexpected’, but what I saw there was totally unexpected, I was almost immediately surrounded by laughing, smiling children, all asking to have their pictures taken as they followed me around the camp.
There were exceptions, I still vividly remember one boy, I guess he is about 12 years old. One look at him and you knew that he had experienced serious trauma. He just followed me, never said a word, never changed his expression, his eyes seemed to be looking through all space and time, as if being in the present was too much for him. When I took his picture it seemed as if he could see straight through me. His eyes still haunt me when I think about him. What future will he have?
However, I must say that the majority of the children seemed, in one way or another, to be handling the situation quite well, I guess many are too young to fully comprehend the horror that is happening in their country. What will happen when they grow up is another question. I took many photographs of children, they have a wonderfully simple and direct interaction with the camera, they don’t have the same barriers that adults do. I must say though that there were children who had a fear of the camera. They had no problem with me but when I held the camera up to my eye some of them became really agitated. The reason for this is because it reminds them of the soldiers who had pointed weapons at them. They would have a flashback directly in front of me.
How the children will ever get over that trauma I will never know.
Russell Chapman, 2014
About Russell Chapman
Russell Chapman is a freelance photographer and writer who is well versed in Middle Eastern and Russian affairs. He is recognized for his work in Syria, having been invited to exhibit his work and talk about his experience at international conferences such as Refugee Voices at the Refugee Studies Centre at St Annes College, Oxford University and also Franklin University, Switzerland. Chapman’s latest exhibition was at the conference on Forced Migration in Washington DC in July.
For more information: http://russellchapman.wordpress.com/