What have we been watching? What have we been watching?
The meaning of words no longer had the same relation to things, but was changed by them as they thought fit. Reckless doing was held to be loyal courage; prudent delay was the excuse of a coward; moderation was the disguise of weakness; to know everything was to do nothing.
Thucydides on the corruption of language during the revolution at Corfu in Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics
The question comes to mind more or less every time I click on a clip from Syria. And every time I read an interpretation that tries to fix a single total meaning, another clip... more
The Missing Archive of Loss
The visual artist Azadeh Akhlaghi began documenting death in the wake of the 2009 uprising, when thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest the results of the presidential elections. She was particularly moved by the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, whose killing was captured on video and circulated widely. The visual documentation of unfathomable injustice, she thought, allowed supporters of the uprising to visualize and ultimately mourn their unfulfilled hopes for emancipation.
The Photograph as Gravestone
The footage of Neda’s shooting invited Akhlaghi to reflect on the power of visual archives and the implication of their absence on mourning. She wondered... more
Aylan and Omran, or the How the Age of their Image Ended
In black and white, the man in the picture clutches the truck window. He is charred. For some reason, the flames could not entirely erase his features, so it looks as though he is grinding his teeth, attempting to escape the burning vehicle. But fire was quicker and stronger, confining him as he wrestled with death until the last breath.
The man is an Iraqi soldier whose picture was taken on what is known as the Highway of Death, the road that connects Northern Kuwait to Southern Iraq. This is where, in the 1991 Gulf War, the Allied Forces stroke an... more
A new Wave of Syrian Films Exposes the Failure of Images
In an increasingly appalling atmosphere of political stagnation, failed negotiations, and yet another ceasefire that won’t last, there is at least some good news coming out from Syria these days. A new wave of talented filmmakers is silently but powerfully emerging in the midst of a social media-driven compulsion to upload images nonstop and share them in real time.
In the immediate aftermath of the March 2011 uprising, Syrian activists and ordinary citizens have widely employed filmmaking to bear witness and denounce human rights abuses, in the hope that the sheer amount of visual media will provoke outrage and push the... more
Syrian Victims Teaching the World Regret
On July 2, 2016, the Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel died. As fate would have it, he witnessed in his lifetime another Holocaust; similar to the one he survived.
Although Wiesel is barely remembered, his death in 2016 reminds us that there have been major devastations, the danger and scale of which speak to what is happening today.
There are several differences between the two eras; between the time when Jews were unwillingly turned into a people and today, when an entire people is turned into the Jews of this century:... more
Representing Refugees 2: A Blueprint for Navigating the Exterior
On their rafts plowing waters and waves, the escapees embark. Throughout their sea adventure, they forge their exterior. The deeper they penetrate it, the more it widens; the more they traverse it, the more it unfolds. At sea, they withdraw to themselves, beginning their lives on sweeping flowing land on which they live their seclusion. The sea grants them seclusion that allows them to navigate and conquer it by moving steadily on its surface. They cannot forego seclusion, for such act would lead them to the abyss; neither can they remain within it, because seclusion intensifies as the sea widens.... more
Representing Refugees 1: The World Captures Escapees at Its Funeral
The picture in which Aylan Shenu appears reveals a glaring conundrum: From which direction did the child touch the shore? If from the sea, his corpse seems to deny it because it faces the water; if from the mainland, his wet clothes serve as a further reminder that their wearer died drowned.
The child touched the shore from both directions simultaneously, for he travelled land and sea and fell in their environment, their milieu. And since his body then longed for the water, it seemed as though both sides were behind him; as though he had avoided them. And as he... more
“The icon of the Syrian diaspora: On the picture of the drowned child, Aylan
In the digital information age, examining this image (which constituted a major humanitarian event the minute it was released) is an attempt to analyse the image’s relationship with the social reality of a given group of people, with political events, and to understand the potential trajectories of the image within the media, while avoiding the dictates of the fast news cycle and the emotionalism of immediate response. The photograph of Aylan, the drowned child, was first released on September 2 and it continues to appear in various contexts. The latest issue of the Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine, which is also... more
I am the picture and the picture is me
The crowds fill the foreground, a river of thin bodies, faces packed between two parallel, receding lines of ruined buildings. The closest face is that of an elderly woman, wearing black shawl on her head. I’ve never seen an exhausted face with quite this kind of parched fatigue before. It is an epic image, it could be a canvas by some great artist, but the truth is it is just a single snapshot from the siege of the Yarmouk Camp in Damascus.
How can an image such as this be beautiful, so very beautiful?
We are used to describing colours as beautiful... more
The image of the oppressor and the image of the victim in war
Since the start of the Syrian revolution, debate has raged over the importance of the image, its potency and the different ways by which one can engage with it. In this article, we attempt to participate in this debate from a different angle: dealing with the power of the image, its aims, its audience and the ease (or difficulty) of accessing it, by reference to what is technically known as “hors champ” or “out of frame”—a concept that incorporates both the problem at hand and a means to solve it.
The power of the image
History tells us, unfortunately, that in wartime... more
Syria in its Own Image,interview with Mohammad Ali Atassi by Grace Bello
Mohammad Ali Atassi’s new documentary about Syria, Our Terrible Country, (Baladna Alraheeb) defines itself by what it is not. It is not a tutorial on the Syrian civil war. It is not a macabre spectacle of bodies, victims of either the Assad regime or ISIS. Instead, it’s a portrait of two very different faces of the Syrian left—one, the film’s co-director Ziad Homsi, a young filmmaker turned soldier in the Free Syrian Army; and the other, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a former political prisoner and a writer and intellectual. Together, they embark on a tripartite journey from the wreckage of Douma, to... more
Revolution in Syria and the Birth of the Image-Event - by Jon Rich
In March 1993, Kevin Carter took a photo of a starving Sudanese child crawling towards a UN relief camp less than a mile away. A few meters from the weary child stood a vulture, waiting for her death to begin his meal. Birds also must eat, and in southern Sudan they were eating because humans were not. Kevin Carter stood across from the vulture, lit a cigarette, and took his shot. Twenty minutes passed and the bird didn’t move, waiting in its place as the child continued to struggle towards the camp. They say that the child survived, but Kevin... more