Didier Bizet was for many years an art director working in advertising agencies in France and overseas. In 2015, he decided to focus on photography full time. He is naturally drawn to the countries of the former Soviet Bloc “where the melancholy of time meekly submits to the camera”. Between fine art and documentary, photography is a way for him to learn about his surroundings: “It gives me a way in and sometimes answers to my own questions about different societies. It’s not only enjoyable – it’s also necessary for my life experience. The world around me is changing, being modernised and developed, always surprising me. I seek out the curiosities of our modern society in order to understand them.” Right from the outset, he embarked on a long-term project, taking him all over the sprawling transcontinental country of Russia over the course of nine journeys, in search of the melancholic side of life. His work featured in numerous magazines, and in 2018 his book Itinéraire d’une mélancolie was published by Juillet. He continued to return to Russia and Crimea, working on subjects such as the Moscow Metro where he spent six hours a day for two weeks: “The Moscow metro system is a different world; for me, it represents all the complexity of Russia’s history and encapsulates its fragility.” In 2019, he spent time in Ekaterinburg where he documented one of the largest pilgrimages in Russia during which every year between 60,000 and 100,000 pilgrims visit the grave of the last tsar, Nicholas II of Russia. This work appeared in the pages of Le Figaro Magazine. Still in the East, Didier Bizet twice visited the shores of the shrinking Aral Sea in Kazakhstan to document the – temporary – return of the water to the Small Aral Sea. This series was picked up by multiple publications, including the French, Finnish and Russian editions of GEO magazine and the German magazine Stern. Didier Bizet is a graduate of the Beaux-Arts de Paris and has a degree in art history. In 2020, he received a Sony Award for his much-published series Baby Boom, which was then screened at the International Festival of Photojournalism 2020 in Perpignan. That same year, he founded his publishing house Revelatœr, which now has five titles in its catalogue. Continue reading
William Daniels is one of those photographers who likes to take the time to capture the chaotic pace of our world. Although he does news reports, like the one he just wrapped up for Le Monde in Afghanistan, his project of choice is the long-term documentary. He is curious about the quest for identity and territories prone to chronic instability.
He embarked on his “photographic journey” in 2002. In 2007, he was awarded Young Photographer Grant from the Jean-Luc Lagardère Foundation to carry out a personal project in the young and fragile Kyrgyzstan Republic, very instable at the time. In 2013, he made ten trips to the Central African Republic. His work was exhibited in 2014 in the form of a 100-metre-long fresco on the banks of the Seine in Paris. From 2015, he made regular trips to the Russian Far East, where he documented life along the Baikal-Amur Mainline, the mythical railway that has been abandoned since the fall of the USSR. In 2019, the Pavillon Carré de Baudouin in Paris hosted his exhibition Wilting Point. In botany, “wilting point” describes the minimal point of soil moisture below which a plant cannot survive. The photos selected thus intended to reflect human fragility. The installation, conceived as an immersive experience, featured a cross-cutting narrative told through images of places in conflict – Indian Kashmir, the Central African Republic, Kyrgyzstan, the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. Although the roots of these conflicts differ, they have one common denominator: their colonial past.
Aside from his personal projects, William Daniels regularly contributes to National Geographic magazine, the National Geographic Society and Time magazine. His work has earned him several international honours, including two World Press Photo awards, an ICRC Humanitarian Visa d’Or award at the International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France and the Tim Hetherington Grant.
Photo at the top: An old Russian woman prays and cries at home. Only a small number of Russians remained in Kyrgyzstan when the country became independent in 1991. November 2007.
Photos and Captions • © William Daniels
Interview for Humanitarian Alternatives by Boris Martin, Editor-in-Chief
Humanitarian Alternatives – Since you started out in photography almost twenty years ago, you have focused on social and humanist, dare I say “humanitarian”, topics. Does this reflect a certain mindset?
William Daniels – I don’t know whether you would call it “engagement” because, back then as now, I’m a little wary of the use of that term in photojournalism. But it is true that when I started photography and began travelling to practise it, I immediately produced images that told human stories. The penny dropped in the Philippines, where I spent two months as a photography teacher in a local association that looked after young girls who had been through the mill and struggled with their own image as a result of the violence they had experienced. The interplay between difficult stories and the power of images seemed obvious to me. And I went down that road, because, quite simply, I like to photograph human stories and meet people. I don’t know if there’s any great philosophy behind it, but what I do know is that I like my pictures to be meaningful.
Chilchi, Russia, May 2013. Svetlana Vishniakova was a schoolteacher in Chilchi, but since she had an attack, her right side has been paralysed and she can no longer speak. Her health care is provided by the Matvei Mudrov hospital train, which makes several trips a year along the Baikal-Amour Mainline. For many people in some of Russia’s most remote villages, it is the only way to be treated.
A man and his baby suffering from malaria, under a used and untreated mosquito net, thus less effective against malaria mosquitoes. Masindi, Uganda, April 2007.
Karachi, Pakistan, October 2016. Vaccinators on a train at Karachi Cantonment Railway Station. Polio is still endemic in Pakistan. The various vaccination campaigns run up against the constant climate of anti-vaccine suspicion amongst the most conservative fringes of society. Members of vaccination teams and their security teams are the targets of ongoing violence, including numerous murders.
H. A. – And then, like many photographers, you crossed paths with humanitarian workers. What did you learn from this first encounter and this form of companionship that may have influenced your subsequent career?
W. D. – It was more than just an encounter because it was thanks to humanitarians that I started in the first place! When I knew that I wanted to work on meaningful subjects, I didn’t have a single commission or even the equipment I needed to fulfil my ambitions. Then, after working with the small Filipino association I just mentioned, I turned to Solidarités International. I had become friends with the communications manager who loved photography – and who has since become a photographer. That’s how I ended up going to Darfur for three weeks with this non-governmental organisation (NGO). I then led a huge project about malaria in several countries, which resulted in an exhibition on the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris and my first book [Editor’s note: Mauvais air, published by Images en Manœuvres, 2008]. I then went to India, Uganda, the Myanmar-Thailand border and countries like Sierra Leone where NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières – MSF) were of great help to me. In fact, I have always worked very closely with NGOs. When I arrive in a country, my first reflex is often to go and see MSF, Doctors of the World (Médecins du Monde – MdM) or Action Against Hunger (Action contre la Faim – ACF). Each time, I ask myself what they are doing there, and I think about how to include what they are doing in my work.
H. A. – Their knowledge of contexts and circumstances must be invaluable for you?
W. D. – Of course, there is a practical dimension that you can’t put a price on. In Central African Republic, for example, where I worked a lot with MSF, I was able to make several trips thanks to their logistical resources: they put me up and helped me travel and, in exchange, I gave them pictures. It’s a win-win: I’m delighted NGOs that I know well and do a great job find my images useful, and they get pictures to illustrate their work. I especially like French NGOs. I find them to be dedicated, progressive, meaningful in the action they do and, on top of that, they love images – and know how to use them. I remember a project with MdM in several countries about “peer educators”, people from affected communities, or what we did with ACF during an all-night art event in 2014: on the banks of the Seine, almost at the foot of Notre-Dame, we pasted a mural measuring 100 metres long by six metres tall made up of photos of Central African Republic. It felt quite daring doing this while tourists watched on from the Bateaux Mouches riverboats! I really like this kind of project, which seems to me to be very typical of French NGOs.
Haiti, Port-au-Prince, July 2010. A student of the famous Haitian dancer Vivianne Gauthier trains in her “gingerbread” house in. These wooden buildings are some of the few to have survived the 2010 earthquake.
Thaing Khali, Bangladesh, September 2017. Rohingya migrants.
H. A. – One of your photos from the Central African Republic is a very good example of the action they are taking in the field, specially thanks to their local staff…
W. D. – Indeed, and if I were asked to choose an image of humanitarians who have made an impression on me, this photo I took in 2015 of three people on a motorcycle would certainly be up there. The driver worked for a small remote clinic that MSF set up in Amada-Gaza, the worst place in Central African Republic at the time, where the photographer Camille Lepage, who was a close friend, died. We were in a car with MSF workers when we came across this motorcycle with these two men and this woman who was about to give birth. She had complications and they knew that if she stayed there, she might die. So, they decided to take her on a motorcycle to the big city where there was a MSF hospital. The driver of the motorcycle had been riding for two hours on bad roads, with his friend and the woman between them. In the photo, she’s about to faint.
Between Berberati and Amada Gaza, the Central African Republic, October 2015. A pregnant woman suffering from complications was transported by motorcycle for two hours from Amada Gaza, where health care is minimal. Fortunately, on the way, she met a Médecins Sans Frontières team, who took her by ambulance to a hospital in Berberati.
These men are real heroes, the humanitarian faces of today, made up of local staff, very dedicated, even though they all too often have low wages… To finish the story, since we had two cars, one of them took the woman to the MSF hospital. I hope that everything went well for her because, alas, I don’t always get to know what happens to the people I meet. But I also think of this woman, a sex worker, who worked for MdM in Myanmar to do peer education with other sex workers. She was extremely dedicated, going to see girls in the brothels, telling them how to put a condom on, how to convince customers who didn’t want to wear one… I met her at her home, I took a picture. She must have been between twenty-five and thirty years old and had been a sex worker since she was fifteen. On the same mission, I also met a young gay man who was teaching safe sex to other gay men, who were equally dedicated as well as discriminated against. These were people with whom I spent a lot of time, which I rarely did with expat humanitarian workers, perhaps because their dedication spoke more to me.
H. A. – What comes through especially in your work is a desire to be there for the long haul, which is what you did in Bangladesh and the Central African Republic. Do you feel a need to delve into the complexities of things, to immerse yourself in a country, a situation?
W. D. – I try to make news with images, and I think they endure because they tell the story of significant moments. But when I am particularly interested in a subject, I try to go back more than once, sometimes on assignments commissioned by newspapers, sometimes with grants or NGOs, to take the time, go more in-depth and make more contextual, more personal and, at times, more poetic images. The Central African Republic is an excellent example of this approach. For Time, I first went to cover the worst part, the ethnic conflict between Christian and Muslim militias. On 5 December 2013, in just a single day there were almost 1,000 deaths in the capital, Bangui. And so I wanted to go back, to take a different approach. I received grants – one from the World Press, one from Getty – and each time I spent four or five weeks there, visiting the villages, meeting NGOs, like MSF, and I produced images that made you stop and think, provided more context – about access to care, poverty, the history – and calmer images too, to help us better understand how a country can slide so quickly into total chaos.
Bangui, Central African Republic, January 2014. A soldier from the Central African Armed Forces, wounded during clashes with fighters in the Seleka Muslim Rebellion.
Boda, Central African Republic, April 2014. Women and children in the Muslim enclave of Boda, where nearly 11,000 displaced people – mostly Fula – have taken shelter.
H. A. – You did that too in Kyrgyzstan, a country not much covered by the press that had its Tulip Revolution in 2005, followed by inter-ethnic clashes…
W. D. – Absolutely. What struck me in this country, as elsewhere, was that it was an external power – Russia – that had decided the future of a people by defining its borders. They called it the Kyrgyz Republic, even though it also included Uzbeks and Tajiks to make sure it wasn’t too uniform. This might have been understandable, except that at the time of the USSR, they each belonged to socialist republics that communicated well with one another. Then, in 1991, they became countries overnight with entities that were not very fluid. In Kyrgyzstan, the Kyrgyz people are very powerful since they are the main ethnic group in the country, but in the southwest there are the Uzbeks, in the south the Tajiks. Over the long term, this has caused severe tensions, such as those in 2010 which I documented. Most striking of all was that more or less the same thing happened in the Central African Republic, with Bozizé. Each time, a desperate leader, at the end of his reign, instrumented ethnic differences in a bid to cling to power. It’s a strategy that works really well, although it’s always the populations who pay the price.
Kyrgyzstan, June 2010. On the day of the new constitutional referendum, a woman stands inside a polling station in an Uzbek school. The buildings were severely damaged after being set on fire during clashes between Uzbek and Kyrgyz ethnic groups.
H. A. – And sometimes photographers and journalists also pay the price… In 2012, you were in Homs, Syria, when you were caught up in an airstrike carried out by the Assad regime. A French photojournalist, Rémi Ochlik, and an American correspondent, Marie Colvin, were killed. Other journalists, including Édith Bouvier, were injured. You were unharmed, but you then had a long wait ahead of you…
W. D. – … that lasted nine days, yes. I have to say that when we got there, Rémi, Edith and I, we had plans to do important, meaningful things. I don’t know if we’d fully realised how violent this conflict was, because the country had been completely shut off. We entered through a four-kilometre-long sewage tunnel. On the day of the bombing, we were in a place that everyone called the “press office,” an apartment provided by Syrian militants to house journalists when they arrived. There were six of us. We’d later learn that, at that time, the Syrian regime was fully aware that there were foreign journalists in that apartment, so they were deliberately targeting us. Rémi and Marie were killed. Others were seriously injured.
For several hours, I thought I was the only one who had escaped unharmed, because the other journalist, a Spaniard who ended up unscathed like me, had disappeared. Javier Espinoza reappeared later in the afternoon. But until then, I felt a little lost. At one point, I broke down in a corner of the clinic, until a Syrian guy told me that “it’s not the time to cry”. I knew he was right, but there was a point when I didn’t want to do my job any longer. I was angry at this job for having brought me there. The same day, we were moved to a small room, protected from the bombs. We were there, locked up, when someone came to tell me that a child had been injured and that I should take pictures. I felt like a complete idiot right then, boo-hooing about what had happened to us, and that’s what finally snapped me out of it. I grabbed my cases and went to take pictures. Luckily, the kid wasn’t badly injured, he had a massive wound above his eye from a piece of shrapnel, but he was going to be fine. Taking that photo woke me up. Before then, the camera had become taboo. The next day, with Javier, we went to see Rémi and Marie’s bodies. I took some pictures whilst crossing the city: the few that were published date from that day, like the photo where you see a young person in the street with a rubbish bag (p.213). The house where we took refuge was on the right of the picture. Édith and Paul were hidden in a room at the end of a corridor. And that night, we were bombed, intentionally again, no doubt. The only reason we survived was because there were two floors above us and buildings around us.
Syria, Homs, February 2012. A boy walks in the midst of destruction in the Baba Amr neighbourhood.
H. A. – How did you manage to leave the country?
W. D. – We hid in that house for two or three days. Then the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to negotiate a ceasefire for a few hours, and a convoy arrived to evacuate the wounded. The problem was that they were not from the ICRC – they were from the Syrian Red Cross. They offered to take us with them. I hesitated and then someone in the convoy quietly told me not to leave, because without anyone from the ICRC, Assad could target the convoy just to prevent us from leaving. I managed to contact an ICRC employee from one of the vehicle radios, who also advised me not to leave with the convoy. She tried to get permission to come and get us but was refused. So we made the decision to stay, and I think we did the right thing, because I think they would have targeted us or at least arrested us. That same evening, the bombing intensified around our house.
The next day, we tried to reach Lebanon by the same tunnel that we had entered through. But we saw that the tunnel exit had been bombed. The people who had been carrying Édith on a stretcher got scared and left her there, laying a Kalashnikov on her. For ten or fifteen minutes, we were all alone in the tunnel, everyone had gone. I thought, all they have to do now is shoot a missile at us in the tunnel and it’ll all be over. Then we heard a motorcycle coming towards us from the other end of the tunnel, where we had come from. Édith was taped to her stretcher – I taped her in the hope that it would hold her leg in place because she had a fractured femur. We put Édith on the bike as best we could, and when we got back to our starting point, near Homs, we found out that it was the Farouq Brigades, a group of well-known rebels from Homs, quite pro, who had come to help us. We managed to leave the next day by car, to cross areas held by the army, but where it was sometimes possible to get civilians across. For several days, we hid in farms, then other people helped us, more heavily armed, people from the Free Syrian Army (FSA). They were the ones who finally enabled us to leave the country.
Ndassima, Central African Republic, July 2015. A miner looks for gold in a river near the Ndassima mine, the largest gold mine in the country. Seleka forces are responsible for the security of the site and the access road.
H. A. – How does one recover from such an ordeal?
W. D. – I needed to take a breather for a while. I didn’t do anything for a month or two and then I thought the best thing to do was to go back to work, obviously without taking the same risks. That was how I got back in touch with the NGOs, especially MdM, and this project on peer education that was a real breath of fresh air, a way to resume my life as a photographer, and on an amazing project as well. Then I followed that by going to the Central African Republic, a tense but less dangerous situation, even though Camille Lepage’s death proves that we are safe from nothing in that country. After that, I went back to war zones, like in Mosul, Iraq, but my mind was never at rest.
I think one of the reasons that I was able to work so well in the Central African Republic for three years was because of this episode in Syria before. I was more than a little annoyed that what went down in Syria became a line in my CV when all I did was have luck on my side. The people who died had faster reflexes: they died because they wanted to get out of the apartment quickly and the missile landed at the entrance – I am alive because I stayed there, wondering for a moment what to do…
I wanted to be remembered for the quality of my work, not for the fact that I got lucky. That spurred me on to try and do a good job, with meaning, in the Central African Republic, something that went beyond a mere eye-witness account. The book that came out of that [Editor’s note: RCA, République Centrafricaine, published by Clémentine de la Feronnière, 2017] is perhaps the most important work I have done.
H. A. – Since the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan, you have been back on the front lines. What do you make of your latest reports from the country?
W. D. – Latest reports indeed, for Le Monde, but this was my first time in the country. I have very mixed feelings because, although the situation is dramatic in terms of human rights, and particularly for women’s rights, the country has never been so safe in fifteen years since the main threat was… the Taliban. Daesh has become their enemy and is carrying out attacks, but no longer on the same scale as in previous decades. On the other hand, I would like to work more on telling the story of the suffering of the women there, their fear for the future… which isn’t easy to put into pictures.
Afghanistan, September 10th, 2021. Street scene at Mazâr-e Charîf Market. Since the Taliban came to power, more women have been wearing the Burqa, even though it is not mandatory at the moment.
H. A. – What are your upcoming projects?
W. D. – I’m rather frustrated because I started working on a great project in 2019, funded by the National Geographic Society, on stateless communities. I had already travelled to Lebanon, Ivory Coast, the Dominican Republic and Nepal, visiting these communities that find themselves stateless because of administrative discrimination, because of genuine racism or long ethnic traditions. It is an exciting project that echoes the concept of nationality so systematically manipulated by politicians. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic happened, meaning that economic stories took up more column inches than human rights issues, even though they have always been part of the magazine’s DNA.
I also just received a grant for a project on primary forests. This goes back to the exhibition and book Wilting Point [Editor’s note: published by Imogène, 2019], which already contained lots of images of a primary forest that I photographed in Uganda. It was part of a National Geographic story on vaccines, where I followed scientists researching the wildlife of this primary forest to help them better understand zoonosis – how diseases jump from animals to humans. This time, I am going to talk about primary forests through the lens of three such forests in three countries: Russia, Madagascar and Canada. It occurs to me that, for the first time, I am going to embark on a fully-fledged project that does not directly concern humans.
Shapuree Island, Bangladesh, September 2017. A young Rohingya refugee.
Although I’m still very much interested in humans! But I must say it’s getting more difficult. First, there is less money to produce reports abroad. Then there’s a growing debate, connected to the Black Lives Matter movement, which questions the position of a white reporter telling the story of what is happening in Africa. In fact, when I posted some violent pictures from the Central African Republic a few months back, I got some strongly worded messages essentially accusing me of making my career on the backs of people who were suffering, like the colonialists who came to strip Africa of its resources. Of course, it’s not personal, and other photographers receive these kinds of comments too. There were three times as many people who defended me on social media as there were people who attacked me, which was reassuring. But it does raise important questions, which I do not dismiss out of hand. Quite the contrary. I think that this profession is changing a lot: the white reporter who goes everywhere, to the other side of the world, will become less of a norm, and for good reason, if only because it is easier to get someone who is already there to work than to send a reporter from overseas. It’s clear that things must change: we cannot have just the Western gaze. And there are fantastic photographers all over the world – in Bangladesh, there is an excellent photography school. It seems that more and more newspapers are thinking twice before sending white photographers to take shots of Africa, for fear of being criticised on social media. Challenging the status quo is always a good thing, but this, combined with financial considerations, makes me very worried about the future of my profession.
Lâm Duc Hiên is a child of the Mekong. Born in Laos in 1966, he had to flee the country in 1975. He then spent two years in refugee camps in Thailand. In 1977, he arrived in France where he experienced the transit camps and red tape and attempted to (re)build his life. Art provided a means to channel the energy that consumed him while photography gave him a better understanding of the suffering of others. In 1990, he crossed paths with humanitarian workers, which was the beginning of a long companionship, from Équilibre to Médecins du Monde, from Romania to Rwanda, from the cause of children to the cause of women victims of violence. But his native country and childhood river always called him back: in 2009, he published the images (with words by Philippe Franchini) from his 4,200 km boat-hitchhiking trip along the Mekong to meet people living on the banks of this mythical river that flows through Thailand, Cambodia, China and, of course, Laos (Mékong, histoires d’hommes, Chêne). He has received several awards for his work, most notably the Leica Prize, the Grand Prix Européen de la Ville de Vevey in 1995 and first prize at the World Press Photo Awards in 2001 for his portraits published in Gens d’Irak. It was to Iraq that he returned. Continue reading
In September 2020, Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesvos, Greece, made a brief return to the forefront of the international stage when it was almost completely destroyed in a series of fires. While the event highlighted the desperate situation in which more than five years of encampment policies had left the camp’s inhabitants, it also raised hopes and expectations among migrant populations and part of civil society, as expressed by the slogan “bye bye, Moria” that emerged from the flames. Continue reading
Bruno Cabanes is an historian, specialised in contemporary history. He is the Donald G. and Mary A. Dunn Chair in Military History at Ohio State University in the United States. He has written several books on the First World War and the post-war era, including The Great War and the Origins of Humanitarianism, 1918-1924 (Cambridge University Press), which received the 2016 Paul Birdsall Prize, awarded biennially by the American Historical Association. In 2018, he edited the collective volume Une histoire de la guerre du xixe siècle à nos jours published by Éditions du Seuil. This interview in fact relates to another of his books, entitled Un siècle de réfugiés. Photographier l’exil, published in 2019 also by the Éditions du Seuil. Continue reading
Unsung Heroes is a joint endeavour undertaken by Denis Rouvre and Médecins du Monde. This photography project “arose from the desire shared with Médecins du Monde to bear witness to the violence in the world as experienced by women” as the photographer said. “For eight months in nine countries worldwide, over one hundred women put their trust in me and accepted my presence behind the microphone, behind the lens. Despite the language barrier, cultural codes, and personal trials, these women have told their story. They have broken the silence with courage and sincerity. With tears, too, a harrowing emotion. All of them posed openly and mindfully, prepared and supported by the NGO. You are not the same after these kinds of encounters. The direct and tangible reality far exceeded the idea in my head. It was a real shock, from the very first portraits in Bulgaria. Meeting women from the Roma community doomed to marry and have children when they are teenagers in the filthy surroundings of a ghetto. Violence and extreme poverty. Moral violence, experienced by displaced Syrian and Palestinian women. Sexual violence carried out on women in the Congo and Colombia. Domestic violence, gang rapes, brutality. Not excluding our European capitals, where women who are abused, exploited, and facing precarity come up against rejection and hate. For thirty years, I have photographed many women who are putting on a front. They are looking for a controlled, smooth image from me that goes without a hitch. Here, with the unsung heroes I met, shadows are coming into the light. Bruises and cracks on the surface of the skin, in the hollows of the eyes. The voices, words, and authentic tone of the personal experience of violence are being expressed. Recounting the specific suffering experienced by women. As well as the strength of being a woman. The ability to pick yourself up and keep on fighting.” Continue reading
Abdulmonam Eassa was born in Damascus in 1995. Until early 2018 he was based in Hammouria, Eastern Ghouta, in the agricultural countryside near Damascus, 13 km north-east of the capital. When the war broke out in 2011, he was forced to quit his studies. In 2013, the many crimes committed by the Syrian army he witnessed motivated him to start his activity of photojournalist, along with some of his friends, to cover the near-daily airstrikes, the deaths of civilians and the massacres by the Syrian government forces and supported by the Russian air force in their fight “against terrorism”. Their main goal was to share with the world the reality of what happened in Syria that foreign journalist could not cover, as they were not allowed to enter the area under siege by the government forces: the Syrian government had blocked the access for foreign medias since 2011, in order to hide what was happening in the country.
At the end of March 2018, after a period of terror and bombing during which hundreds of innocent civilians were killed, an agreement was reached between rebel fighters and the Syrian government leading to the forced displacements of civilians to the north of Syria. Abdulmonam was forced to leave his hometown. Once he arrived in the north, the situation being unbearable, he decided to cross the Turkish border. After several months of travel, he managed to get to Paris where he was able to apply for asylum.
Photojournalism has become Abdulmonam’s passion. What had started as a self-taught activity has led him to be published in the New York Times, Time, The Guardian and the Washington Post. He has worked for the Agence France Presse (AFP) and has won the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Prix Visa d’Or Humanitaire2019 award.
About Eastern Ghouta
Eastern Ghouta was one of the first regions to participate in the peaceful uprising in Syria in early 2011. The regime lost control of the region in late 2012. Almost two thirds of al-Ghouta were held by the opposition and besieged by the regime for more than five years. Eastern Ghouta is considered to be one of the regions that has witnessed the most horrific attacks by the Syrian regime. Before 2011, the population was 1.2 million. In March 2018, there were only 400,000.
Syrian civilians walked alongside a completely destroyed four-story building following shelling by the Syrian government in the town of Ain-Taram, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on 17 July 2017.
Volunteers from the Syrian Civil Defence (known as the White Helmets) dig a girl out of the rubble following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018.
Two Syrian sisters run across the rubble to embrace after finding each other alive following an air strike on Hamouria, in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, on January 9, 2018. Air strikes and artillery fire killed dozens of civilians in the besieged rebel enclave, targeted by near-daily regime bombardments.
A picture taken on February 9, 2018, shows a bandaged Syrian boy sitting in a clinic between two young people. He was injured in reported regime air strikes in the town of Arbin.
A Syrian man grieves over the death of his son following a reported air strike in the rebel-controlled town of Arbin, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on December 3, 2017. A wave of Syrian air strikes killed at least 19 civilians and wounded dozens across the besieged rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Syrian civil defence volunteers pray over the body of a victim who died in a building collapse following a reported regime bombardment in Haza, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on February 26, 2018.
Volunteers from the Syrian civil defence help a man in Hamouria during Syrian government shelling on rebel-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 6, 2018. Heavy air strikes and clashes shook the rebel enclave, as France and Britain called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting on the escalating violence.
Syrians work inside a workshop producing fuel and gas from plastic waste materials in the town of Hamouria, in the besieged Eastern Ghouta area near Damascus, 15 April 2017.
Syrian civilians and rebel fighters prepare to embark aboard buses during the evacuation from the town of Arbin in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on March 25, 2018.
A Syrian woman and child walk down a destroyed street as civilians and rebels prepare to evacuate one of the few remaining rebel-held pockets in Arbin, in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, on March 24, 2018.
The unhoped-for end to the siege
A city under siege is nothing but a huge prison, trapping you and your loved ones inside without any possibility of leaving.
The only escape is to take refuge in your dreams and memories, but this is only temporary – every time reality comes rushing back and drags you down the hole of everyday horrors and suffering. Sounds of shelling, airstrikes, the threat of death that follows you everywhere you go, starvation, freezing weather, skyrocketing prices and endless losses.
Until March 2018, airstrikes were hitting the villages of Eastern Ghouta on a daily basis, a terrorizing and destructive rate that had not been seen throughout the years of the siege – since 2013.
In under 60 days, the landscape of the cities and villages changed completely with the destruction of mosques, hospitals and schools. The shelling was a form of collective punishment for everyone living under the siege, and a lesson for other rebellious neighbourhoods and cities. During this period, innocent people could not leave the shelters to secure their daily needs because of their deep fear from the constant shelling. Some died in shelters trying to protect themselves.
The little pocket of Eastern Ghouta that was under the control of opposition brigades and some Islamist factions was reason enough for the Syrian regime to mobilise its huge military apparatus – supported by Russian air strikes – to kill thousands of innocent civilians using all kinds of munitions. In March 2018, a large part of fighters and civilians were evacuated to Northern Syria, after an unfair deal that displaced nearly 70,000 residents from their homes and lands.
To read the article in PDF click here.
ISBN of the article (HTML): 978-2-37704-606-5
All credits and legends : © Agnès Varraine-Leca/MSF
Four years of war, with more than 19,000 air strikes by the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates-led coalition and conservative estimates suggest a human toll of 90,000. Civilians are paying a heavy price, the first victims of the coalition’s strikes as well as the ground battles between loyalist forces – loyal to President Hadi and supported by the coalition – and Ansar Allah’s troops. The latter are themselves responsible for heavy civilian casualties, especially due to their intensive use of landmines in the west of the country(1)For a better understanding of the causes and context of this conflict, see Francis Frison-Roche, “Yemen: a conflict behind closed doors”, Humanitarian Alternatives, n°4, March 2017, p.12-33, http://alternatives-humani-taires.org/en/2017/03/09/yemen-a-conflict-behind-closed-doors.
|￪1||For a better understanding of the causes and context of this conflict, see Francis Frison-Roche, “Yemen: a conflict behind closed doors”, Humanitarian Alternatives, n°4, March 2017, p.12-33, http://alternatives-humani-taires.org/en/2017/03/09/yemen-a-conflict-behind-closed-doors|
Its rallying slogan, “So as not to stay with our eyes shut”, is a leitmotiv that resonates for humanitarian workers, development professionals and social workers and which justifies our turning the lens towards these revealers that are photographers.
Created in 2001, collectif item’s members now include 12 photographers, a video and sound director, a graphic designer and an anthropologist.
Interview with Reza
“War and peace correspondent”. This phrase, for which Reza has a particular fondness, perfectly encapsulates his view of the world, a view full of optimism in an ocean of suffering, hope under the rubble, humanity behind the madness of mankind. But revealing all this is not enough for Reza. Since the beginning of his career, the photojournalist has never ceased to use his profession and his fame to solve the problems he encounters on his reportages. No doubt because he sees a little clearer than the others…