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The Lens of a Youth Photography Collective: Documenting Life and War in Syria

The Lens of a Youth Photography Collective: Documenting Life and War in Syria

[Yassen Al-Sabbagh and Maryam Al-Sabbagh. 20 January 2013. Via Lens of a Young Homsi.] [Yassen Al-Sabbagh and Maryam Al-Sabbagh. 20 January 2013. Via Lens of a Young Homsi.]

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As much as the war in Syria is one of weapons, it is also a war of images. Photographs and videos circulated online have altered assumptions, confirmed biases, and framed narratives at every stage of ongoing developments. In the past year, a number of Facebook pages have emerged as part of the “Lens of a Youth” network of photography collectives, covering nearly all the different cities and towns in Syria. Each individual collective’s moniker declares the place it is from, such as “Lens of a Young Aleppan” or “Lens of a Young Hamawi.”

Not surprisingly, the idea of systematically documenting all the cities through a coordinated photography collective came from Homs, “the capital of the Syrian revolution," but it quickly spread across all of Syria. Nebras, who works on the “Lens of a Young Deiri” page, says the Syrian uprising contains many elements, but that in his “personal opinion, media is the soul of the revolution. The effort to document every event, no matter how large or how small, is what keeps it alive.” 

The collectives have become a popular source of images of everyday life, violence, and destruction in neighborhoods from around the country. While most of the photographs and videos coming out of Syria seem to exclusively feature either images of war or images of peace, the “Lens of a Youth” pages have a variety of pictures from daily life in Syria. The pages exhibit photographs of destruction and protests, but also of street corners, houses, and city landscapes.

Selma, a photographer for “Lens of a Young Homsi,” says the page originally featured such a range of images not for ideological reasons, but out of a sense of obligation to the many inhabitants of Homs who have been forced to leave the city. “If you look in our inbox, every day we get hundreds of messages from Homsi people asking [about] what is happening to their neighborhoods and houses.”

Photographers from different areas take a few photographs in response to people’s requests for pictures of their homes. Often, the entire extended family and their neighbors have left, and this is one of the only ways of obtaining detailed news from inside the city. “Actually, these photographs are where we get the most comments, from Homsis themselves. They really appreciate it and write ‘that’s my house, this is my grandfather’s house, there is my school!’ They always seem shocked to see it, and even if it is destroyed they are happy to at least know what is happening and have it documented.”

But naturally, the photographers capture dramatic, violent images as well. In January 2013, the Lens of a Young Homsi page published a photo of Yassin and Maryam Sabbagh, a brother and sister playing in the street in a regime-controlled neighborhood of Homs. Selma explains, “one of our photographers took a picture of them and put it on the page. A half hour later, the photographer heard an explosion in the area. He ran back to make sure they were safe. Instead, he found they had both been killed by mortar shelling. He took a picture of them wrapped in dark green shrouds with their faces exposed. Ahmed says, “it was devastating. We had this picture up of these two children, and then we reposted the same one just a short time later with a black line over the corner of the picture [which means that the person in the picture has died].” 

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The photography page aims to provide a space for reflection on photography in its various forms and uses in the Middle East. We showcase the work of photographers active in the region and cultivate critical thinking about photographic practices, representations, and history. The page publishes photo essays, articles, interviews, reviews and more. It also provides information on photographic archives, agencies, and institutions, exhibits, events, and publications.