Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Damascus – life interrupted – Our Man In Damascus – John Wreford

Our great friend John Wreford is still in his house in the old city in Damascus, he no longer feels safe enough to walk the streets with his camera but he writes for Your Middle East, here is his latest article

The universal image of washing  © John Wreford

The image of washing blowing in the breeze is as universal an image as you will find anywhere in the world, an image of the everyday, domesticity, perhaps an indication of the less well off or working class, a sign of daily life, of family, his overalls, the kids school uniform.

Syria is not so different, in the villages you see the colours flapping in the wind although not so much in the city, maybe on the roof or in the courtyard but more often than not hanging on the balcony hidden from view by a curtain, modesty dictates underwear is not supposed to be on public display. I am not sure why the subject gets my attention other than my natural inquisitiveness of the human condition, I like to photograph people, I like to understand how they live, for sure it’s not a fetish, the souk of al Hamadiyya would surely satisfy that with its gaudy penchant for titillation, risqué lingerie juxtaposed alongside hijab.

Wandering the streets of Damascus without my camera doesn’t stop my eye from being drawn to the subjects that interest me most: its people and their lives. They are going about their business as best they can, some would have us believe as normal, well for the most part shop and office are open and the streets are busy but we all know it’s not normal and that in fact it’s quite terrible, on a good day the sound of the traffic and its incessant honking will drown out the sound of the helicopter gunships or the shelling in the suburbs, the checkpoints tend to fade away in many places during the day, we all know terrorists only come out after dark, the devil though is said to be in the details and it’s the washing that catches my eye. READ MORE HERE

John wrote an earlier diary piece for the Your Middle East

Syrian security forces taking position in the Al-Midan district of Damascus on July 18
An image grab taken from Syrian TV shows Syrian security forces taking position during armed clashes with gunmen who the TV called “terrorists” (unseen) in the Al-Midan district of Damascus on July 18. For the first time in decades, the eve of Ramadan in Syria’s capital is overshadowed by fear. Panic has engulfed the city amid unprecedented combat after a bombing killed three top officials. © AFP/SYRIAN TV/File

A warm summer evening sitting in a central Damascus restaurant overlooking the city, the mountain of Qasyun lit like a Christmas tree, we were under no illusion all was well in Syria. But here in the capital life went on almost as usual. We discussed how things the last week or so had calmed down, then for a moment we paused for thought, the calm before the storm perhaps.

No more than a few days later the storm well and truly blew into town. For months, the opposition and regime had been battling each other in the outer suburbs of Damascus. The sounds of shelling and artillery echoed across the city, peaceful protestors were still coming out in large numbers, more and more clashes could be heard, but by and large everything tended to take place in certain areas.

It was pretty well known that the Free Syrian Army had been moving into Damascus and was encamped in the more militant neighbourhoods such as Midan and Kfra Souseh. But many of us felt able to go about life as usual despite knowing that sooner or later things would change. From Sunday we felt that change. The war had been on the doorstep but was now passing over the threshold, more explosions, more shooting, the awful sounds moving closer and closer, the continuous drone of helicopters that had become a regular feature over recent weeks.

Where I live in the Old City between Bab Touma and Bab Salam, ancient houses in a warren of alleyways, things were calm, children playing in the streets and many preparing for Ramadan. I would sit on my roof early morning and in the evening, able to get more of a fix on where the sounds of gunfire may be coming from. I can see very little, four large satellite dishes prostrated toward Mecca have seen to that. Monday through Tuesday the fighting became more intense, my house shook as a helicopter was shot down in Qaboun and at one point a couple of stray bullets whizzed through the air above my head, the sound like an email being despatched from an iPhone. The explosions and gunfire continued all through the night. READ MORE HERE

If we believed in a god, and let’s face it the evidence is all to the contrary, we would pray for John’s safety, as it is we trust in his good sense and innate humanity, he is in our thoughts, if you want to see more of his work have a look here

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