Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

John Wreford our man in Damascus

John is a great friend who is trying to stay living in Damascus, as a photographer he finds it difficult to take his camera out at the moment, arrest and or death seem to great a penalty to pay. His occasional musings in words rather than pictures must suffice. This picture is of John from calmer times

©Keith Barnes

Here are John’s words from his recent return to Damascus from Beirut

Damascus for me has always had the amazing ability to raise my mood, if for whatever reason I have fallen out of bed on the wrong side and started the day in a grumpy mood it hardly ever lasted before some quirk of Damascene life made everything chipper again, I remember a while ago waking to find the electricity cut and just as I was about to make coffee I ran out of gas, at that time I lived in a modern apartment over the road from the presidential office but it felt more like the third world, I went out in search of the gas man but instead headed for a coffee shop downtown, the smell of Jasmine and the croaking of frogs along the drizzle of a river were not quite enough to counter the effects of being deprived of early morning coffee but as I passed a police guard box outside an embassy building I couldn’t keep the smile from spreading across my face, the two young policemen were fast asleep and entwined like satisfied lovers, a short walk later I passed a hairdressing salon that was having its windows cleaned, the signage in English was advertising Hair Extensions, Wigs and Beards and for some reason tickled my fancy enough to make me laugh, I found a café enjoyed my fix and headed home, not to far from home I met the truck with the gas, I stopped him and asked if he would come and change the bottle, typically he asked who’s house rather than the actual address, this I knew was going to be a test of my Arabic but persevered with directions, he knew the area, he knew the street, he knew the chicken shop a few doors down and so when I said it was the black door he then asked was it the black door with the step or the one without, it was with and the gas was on its way, I have no idea what all the fuss was about, I had a lovely couple of hours.

Damascus still has the ability to surprise me but lately its more likely to change an otherwise pleasant mood into a depressing one, after a few days of much needed rain I was out enjoying the winter sun, walking back from town through Al Hamadiyya souk, the market was busy, busier than normal it occurred to me, I exited the souk and children were chasing the pigeons in the square, I rounded the mosque and instead of heading towards Norfra café as I would normally I decided to buy some dried Figs in souk Bouzariya, after which I walked along the narrow alleyway behind the Azam Palace, I remember looking up at a healthy bush of Jasmine tumbling down over a beautiful Arabic house, a little further along I paused to smile at how all the Arabic graffiti had been painted over and only the English word “Freedom” was left legible and it was at exactly this point that a mortar fizzed over my head and exploded in the next street, the walls of the alley vibrated causing bits of concrete to fall, it seemed to me at the time the target must have been the Umayyad mosque but I couldn’t tell, the next alley directly opposite the Jesus Minaret where some say Jesus will descend on Judgment Day- was a hive of panic with a couple of soldiers running around, maybe it was Judgment Day, whoever in their infinite wisdom decided to fire that mortar should and sooner or later will be judged, I went home not so much scared by what had happened but angry and confused.

At home and sitting on my roof only a couple of hours later I watched a fighter jet pounding the suburbs a few kilometres away, the fairy lights of its payload glowing in the evening sky, a mother and her three children were on a neighbouring roof were also watching, then automatic gunfire echoed over the rooftops, it was close but only when I heard bullets ricochet of the satellite dishes did we all scuttle downstairs, I turned on the TV to watch the news, I saw familiar roof tops and an evening sky, I saw the fairly lights and the screaming jet, it wasn’t Damascus though it was Gaza, Syria didn’t make the news today.

You can see John’s pictures here

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