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Oxford School of Photography
insights into photography
ABANDONED IN SYRIA: Q&A WITH JOHN WREFORD
July 29, 2013Posted by on
So if you follow us regularly you will know that our man in Damascus, John Wreford is now our man in Istanbul. In this article with NATHAN THORNBURGH he tells us something about his life in Damascus before he was able to leave and about where he needs to be now.
….[It started when] I was about to leave for a short trip for Cairo. I have residency in Syria, and to leave you have to get an exit visa. When I went to the immigration office to do it, I discovered my name was on the computer. In Syria, that’s a euphemism for being wanted by the secret police. I spent the next three months trying to leave.
Eventually, I got permission. It’s ridiculous, these lists. They didn’t tell me what it was. One suspects that they were worried I was working as an undercover journalist. They gave me permission to leave, and according to the stamp in my passport, it allows me to go back. But there’s a big risk. You need little excuse these days to lock someone up. The handful of foreigners still left in Damascus are all having trouble……..
R&K: And Istanbul is now full of your Syrian friends?
JW: Yes. It’s actually quite amusing. I lived in the old city of Damascus, and I had a small photo gallery, with a friend, in the touristy area. I knew everyone. As the war went on, a lot of them left, and it was all new faces in my neighborhood. But a lot of the people working in the tourist industry, selling carpets and so on, they’ve all come here to Istanbul. When I arrived here, it was just like walking around old Damascus, saying hi to all the old familiar faces……..
…..JW: For the last two years I lived in Syria, I’ve not been able to photograph anything, and this of course is frustrating. As a photographer, as a journalist, Syria is something personal. If my situation had been different, I would’ve done it differently. I would’ve come in through the north and photographed the Free Syrian Army.
But I was already in Damascus, and I felt it important to stay, to understand what was going on, to be part of it. The media has often gotten it very wrong, or just not reported things. There’s a lack of attention paid to ordinary Syrian people living their lives.
As a photographer, the most natural thing would be to photograph the most dramatic fighting. But living there, I feel like it’s a small part of the story. It’s important and integral, but it’s not the whole story…..
R&K: We’ve been reading a lot about the fall of Homs and the government’s new momentum. Are people worried they’ve lost?
JW: This is my issue with the media. It always needs a new headline. At the beginning of war, there was a lot of attention on refugees, and then it just stopped. It was the same at the beginning of the Iraq war: attention at first, but two years later nobody cared. But after two years of being a refugee, the story is considerably worse.
But of course the media needs to move on to something different. With Syria, you have the taking of a town, the back and forth of the opposition and the regime, the changing face of the opposition and so on. For the Syrians, though, it doesn’t really affect them……..
Read all of this interview with John Wreford here