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Tag Archives: John Wreford
May 15, 2015Posted by on
In 2009 I was lucky enough to visit Syria and join my friend John Wreford who then lived in Damascus. He took me on a tour of the country. One of the highlights was our visit to Palmyre. Now it is under threat as reported on the BBC website
Palmyra is in danger. As Islamic State fighters clash with Syrian government forces around the historic site, it is worth considering what the loss of this wonder, dubbed the “Venice of the Sands”, would mean for the world’s cultural heritage.
Palmyra is the last place anyone would expect to find a forest of stone columns and arches. Travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries were repeatedly astonished by what they saw: a vast field of ruins in the middle of the Syrian desert, roughly half-way between the Mediterranean coast and the valley of the River Euphrates.
For anyone visiting, however, the key reason for the site’s prosperity is immediately apparent: ancient Palmyra sits at the edge of an oasis of date palms and gardens.
It was as a watering place on a trade route from the east that Palmyra’s story begins, and the very name Palmyra refers to the date palms that still dominate the area….read more here
We have seen how ancient sites in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria have been destroyed during the wars in those countries, such unbelievable loss, of course overshadowed by the loss of lives.
Here are some images from my time at Palmyre
John Wreford is now based in Istanbul, here are links to his work
Here is a link to the DEC SYRIA CRISIS APPEAL
March 7, 2014Posted by on
Photographer John Wreford has been to a part of Turkey where the hotel manager only speaks Arabic.
I rapped the knocker a couple more times on the heavy wooden door of the hotel and waited, as I blew on my freezing fingers and my breath hung in the musty air like an ominous rain cloud. It was early evening but already the streets thick with the smell of wood smoke were deserted. It seemed much later when I rapped again, a little harder this time, and through the side window I could see an old man hobbling towards the door.
He welcomes me inside and as I am telling him I have a booking he interrupts to say he only speaks Arabic. Off the beaten track in Turkey it’s hardly a surprise to find English a struggle and anyone even remotely familiar with the country would know that the Kurds have their own language – but Arabic?
Well, yes – this is Antakya and according to Syrian maps it is still part of the Arab Republic. Culture and identity rarely recognizes borders and the Hatay province of Turkey merges seamlessly with that of its Arab neighbors. See more pictures and read more here
November 7, 2013Posted by on
Our great friend John Wreford is now based in Istanbul having extricated himself from Damascus. As well as being a great photographer he is a writer and here is something from his blog
“The scene is messy and chaotic. Water carriers and foam mattresses are being unloaded, an ambulance screams past on its way to a Turkish hospital with a newborn child. A moment of panic and everyone scuttles for cover as a Syrian warplane is spotted.” John Wreford has visited the Atmeh refugee camp.
Atmeh camp clings to the side of a hill on the edge of the Syrian-Turkish border. Colored plastic bags flap like flags trapped in the rolls of razor wire that separate the two countries. Turkish soldiers watch from a guard post on the hill above. And just to be clear, Atmeh camp is on the Syrian side of the border, part of Idlib province now under the control of the opposition.
As we enter the camp the scene is messy and chaotic. Water carriers and foam mattresses are being unloaded from a couple of small trucks, an ambulance screams past on its way to a Turkish hospital with a newborn child. A moment of panic and everyone scuttles for cover as a Syrian warplane is spotted in the distance, a truck mounted Doshka swivels and scans the sky, the danger passes and people re-emerge, a black plume of smoke rises from across the valley.
As first impressions go, Atmeh does not feel like a place of refuge. More than twenty thousand Syrians are living here, the largest camp for the internally displaced in Syria, the decision to come would not have been taken lightly, driven by fear and desperation and with nowhere else to go. READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE HERE
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……..
June 14, 2013Posted by on
Our good friend and celebrated photographer John Wreford has extricated himself from Damascus for the time being, no doubt he will return, but for the moment he is now officially our man in Istanbul. You can see his most recent images here
April 2, 2013Posted by on
Our great friend John Wreford is sticking it out in Damascus for the time being, it is his home and has been for 10 years. To many his reluctance to leave would seem to be verging on the insane but John is a man of great fortitude. When I had the chance to travel with him through Syria in 2009 I found that everywhere we went he was greeted like a brother. People would stop him in the streets to say hello and embrace him, hotels we stayed at refused to take payment treating him like family, it didn’t seem to matter where we were there was someone who knew him. I guess that is why he is still there. This piece he has written for Roads and Kingdoms, here are the opening passages…
Damascenes have long told themselves that their city is where all journeys, all religions and all civilisations begin and end. We who live there now also know that Damascus will be where the final battle for control of Syria will be fought.
Rebel forces are gathered just a few kilometers from the stone walls of the Old City, and inside the walls for almost a year now we have lived with the terrifying sounds of war, the scream of fighter jets, gun battles raging and shells flying overhead. War on our doorstep.
For me the only journeys I ever take these days are around the souks and alleyways of my neighborhood. On these walks I am not only trying to get a sense of the situation, but also a bit of the reassurance that comes from seeing the market busy with shoppers and children heading off to school. I drop in on friends and get updates on the crisis. Often it’s only gossip and rumor, but there are few other reliable sources of information. I check to see what food is in the market and at what price, as there have been days when fresh food and bread have been scarce. Those are the things on my mind as I slam the heavy metal door of my house and head out into the warren of passageways tucked in a corner of the Old City between the ancient gates of Bab Touma and Bab Salam.
Outside my door all is quiet. The street cleaner has collected the rubbish and the cats have retired for a morning nap in the shade of satellite dishes on the wonky roofs. A hose pipe peeks out from behind a door and a woman sprays water over the dusty cobbles. The alley here is no wider than an arm’s length. It doglegs a couple of times, ambles down a few stone steps and underneath an archway, past a small local mosque with a pretty courtyard dotted with potted plants. Despite most of the neighborhood being Muslim, few seem to visit this Mosque. Another couple of steps and another arch and then I see the first sign that life here is not as it used to be: there’s a checkpoint, not military but civilian…..MORE
January 16, 2013Posted by on
November 17, 2012Posted by on
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
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.
October 5, 2012Posted by on
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 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
August 22, 2012Posted by on
It is nice to know that our man in Damascus, John Wreford is still able to produce work and get it out to his clients. Recent conversations with John have highlighted the desperate problems of Syria and the restrictions on movement have meant his opportunity to photograph in Syria during these very dangerous times have been limited so this photo essay of his from Turkey is welcome.
“God spoke to Noah commanding him to save his family, build an Ark and take the animals – the flood was coming, Earth needed to be cleansed. The well-known story is related in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and finding the Ark and proving the story true an eternal quest.
Noah reputedly hailed from Mesopotamia, and the last resting place of the Ark is still thought to be in the region of Ararat in Turkish Anatolia, so it’s with some irony that a few hundred kilometres to the south all the talk is of impending flood waters that will drown towns and villages along the Tigris basin, the ancient town of Hasankeyf being the most prominent.
“This time the Turkish government is the one preparing to open the floodgates; the southeast Anatolian project (GAP) is an ambitious plan to develop the infrastructure of the impoverished region utilizing the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers via a series of dams and hydroelectric plants. Needless to say there has to be casualties and it looks like Hasankeyf is going down with all its treasure”……..MORE
© John Wreford