Culture

Focusing on Aleppo, one year later

BEIRUT: Video footage of Aleppo was projected onto torn strips of white sheet, which fluttered as the public walked past.

Entitled "Aleppo's Walk of Life," this eight-minute video installation tells the story of how life has changed for residents of the city over the past eight years. It was made up of work by the Warsheh Team for Advocacy and Documentation, a group of artists and activists inside Aleppo. The final video was produced by Syrian filmmaker Abdullah Hakawati.

This audio-visual exhibit was part of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s “Across Beyond Aleppo,” which featured work by photojournalists Sam Tarling and Abd Alkader Habaq, both of whom covered the conflict in Aleppo.

Habaq made headlines last year after being depicted on the other side of the lens, assisting children caught up in the bombing of a civilian bus convoy. A series of his photos was shown exclusively at “Across Beyond Aleppo.” Nether Habaq nor Hakawati were able to attend Monday’s event.

Staged Monday evening at Artlab in Gemmayzeh, “Across Beyond Aleppo” included a panel discussion on the targeting of civilian infrastructure, particularly hospitals, during the battle for the city last year. It featured Syrian doctors Fouad Fouad and Wael al-Raas, who worked in Aleppo while under siege, and civil society representatives, including Diana Semaan, Syria researcher at Amnesty International, and James Sadri, director of NGO The Syria Campaign.

“It’s a clear commemoration of one year after the fall of Aleppo,” said Bente Scheller, Boell’s Middle East office director. “We saw in Aleppo more than in other places the attacking of medical facilities in order to weaken the population, and we thought therefore it would be a good occasion to hold a talk on the future of health care internationally.”

Scheller said the inclusion of the photography and video installation was an effort to bring home the reality of life for those under siege.

Speaking during the panel discussion, Sabri linked his organization’s work to Tarling’s powerful, but bleak, photography.

“To bring color back into these photos,” he said, “you need to give people a window of hope that [their desire for political rights] is actually possible.”

Tarling visited Aleppo in 2012 and 2014, first for Lebanon’s Executive Magazine, later with London’s The Daily Telegraph. In the era of fake news, he feels that quality photojournalism is more important than ever.

“You need people going and being there who can do objective work and hopefully counter propaganda with good journalism.”

Tarling says creating powerful images in conflict zones is not always the most difficult part of his job.

“Getting pictures out there in front of people is always the challenge. You can go and get them.

“That can be difficult but it’s part of the job. Sometimes just to find people that are willing to publish it is really difficult.

“Yemen, for example, has been a story that I’ve struggled trying to find people willing to invest in sending someone to go cover. ... Good journalism is expensive to do and so you’re always fighting a losing battle against people who are just sat behind their laptops making things up,” Tarling added.

For the most part, Tarling feels that the immediate impact of his photography is limited.

“If you think you’re going to change the world, of course, you’re always going to be disappointed,” he said. “You have those moments, like the pictures of [drowned Syrian refugee] Aylan Kurdi, for example is a great one. That really changed everyone’s perspective on the refugee crisis.

“You’ve got to keep keeping on in the hope that some [journalists] might have that moment, but you can’t be too frustrated if that’s not you and that doesn’t happen, because they’re so few and far between.”

Photojournalism, he said, is like, “throwing pennies at a bucket, and one of them might go in.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2017, on page 16.

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