In October I attended a Red Eye photography talk by Musa Chowdhury on documenting the Syria War. I’d not been along to any photograph events for a while, and this was the first one that came up having moved house and resolved to start attending again. I’m not especially interested in war photography, above any other form, but the images do have an impact.
Chowdhury presented his images with background on the Syria conflict and much of the talk was focussed on the situation, with the images as illustration, though he did talk about his experiences in getting access to the groups he took photographs off. It was an interesting talk, which gave a real appreciation for the many faction and complexity of the conflict; disturbingly it illustrated that this isn’t something that will be solved anytime soon or simply.
He had been out to Syria twice – once with a group of journalists, but the second time with aid workers; journalists had become targets for kidnappings and attacks since his first visit, so the risk was far greater. Whereas the first time he went with a whole host of equipment, on his second visit he had inconspicuous equipment so he didn’t stand out.
The images strongly reflected the awfulness of the conflict, but I felt few of the images had significant impact on me. Having seen the work of Don McCullin, I felt Chowdhury’s work didn’t strike the same chord in terms of the personal impact of the conflict. Quite often people’s faces are obscured – mainly, Chowdhury explained, because that was a condition of him taking the photographs – which does take a level of humanity out of what’s presented. I found the highest impact images were those which included that human element. That said, the images of children playing on a tank are effective in that regard. The contrast of fighters on the street with one on a mobile ‘phone was also an interesting slant – placing the familiar every-day with the reality of a war. This image is the first in the video below, which includes many of the images Chowdhury presented during his talk: