|Young photographers trained by UNICEF's 'Refocus' project, based in Syria, pause for a picture with band members from the rock group Gorillaz.|
By Rob Sixsmith
DAMASCUS, Syria, 30 July 2010 – There was nothing typical about the visit of Gorillaz –one of the world’s biggest rock bands – to Syria, a country that is usually not a top tour priority. But the event was perhaps most unusual for 20 budding photographers from the struggling Damascus refugee community of Bebila.
Having proved their skill at photographing still life and the environment, the young team from UNICEF’s ‘Refocus’ programme, which trains adolescent Syrians and Iraqi and Palestinian refugees in photography, now had a project with a bit more bite – to meet and photograph the Gorillaz before their unprecedented live performance.
Crafting a new lens
Through the Refocus project, young people learn to better understand their lives through photography. The group has already worked to create some stunning works of art, many of which are set to be displayed at various exhibitions across Damascus, Syria’s capital.
|A Refocus team member captures images from a Gorillaz rehearsal the day before the band's performance in Syria.|
Having been briefed about Gorillaz, a band which has topped charts around the world and whose first album alone sold 7 million copies, the young photographers set about the project with vigor. They were greeted warmly by the iconic musicians and got an exclusive glimpse into the world of music photography, snapping images of the band during their sound check.
“Before, I didn’t really know who [Gorillaz] were, but just loved taking pictures of them,” said Ghufran, a project member from Jaramana in southern Syria. “Now that I’ve seen their concert, I really can’t believe I actually met them. There were all these people that love them and I was the one that got to take photos of them.”
A shared experience
The significance of what the young artists had achieved during their up-close-and-personal photography session only truly hit home when they got to watch the Gorillaz’s highly individual, frenetic live show. Showing off their vivid blend of musical styles and narrative animation, the band wowed a young Syrian audience that is rarely treated to such spectacles.
|A photographer’s view of the stage during Gorillaz's perfomance in Syria.|
The Refocus programme has already shown success in bringing together young people of various cultures – including newly arrived Iraqi refugees and Palestinians who have lived in Damascus for generations – by encouraging them to express who they are through photographs. But having now met and photographed one of the world’s most popular bands, it would seem they now have something else in common – a love for Gorillaz.
“I have never, never seen anything like this. And I met them,” said Areej, 16.
Hussein, a 19-year-old Iraqi photographer, agreed. “Their concert was so amazing and beautiful,” he said. “When I told people I got to take pictures of the band no one believed me. But it’s all true.”