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At a glance: Syrian Arab Republic

Adolescents find their identity through photography in Syria

© UNICEF/SYR05374/Krzysiek
A participant of the Refocus ‘Bridging the Gap’ project takes a photograph.

By Pawel Krzysiek

DAMASCUS, Syria, 12 January 2010 – Last summer, a six-week photography workshop invited 24 young people from Syria, Palestine and Iraq to bring their perspectives to issues affecting their region. The participants addressed issues including identity, gender equality, children’s rights and integration. Thousands of photos emerged, many of which were exhibited in galleries in Damascus and London.

The ‘Bridging the Gap’ workshop, organised by the UK-based Refocus Project [www.refocusproject.com] and supported by UNICEF, brought participants together for a summer of photographic training. Boys and girls from different backgrounds worked alongside each other to explore and document their environment. They produced images of the world through their own eyes, examining both the achievements they perceived and the struggles they faced.

My photo, my identity

For many workshop participants – some of whom have never used a camera before – photography became a way to show the outside world their stances and feelings.

© UNICEF/SYR05372/Krzysiek
Young photographers address issues such as gender equality during a trip to the city of Bosra.

“I show what I see outside, but it is mine, from my perspective,” said Morhaf*, 15, from Syria. “Photography is the best way to inform people what we are feeling.”

A range of subjects is represented among the young people’s photos, including proud self-portraits, blossoming gardens and political symbols. “The idea of the photography is to give the freedom to choose what you want to be seen and how you present it to the others,” said Kate Denman, one of the Refocus Project’s co-founders and the workshop’s trainer.

Moreover, creating intimate, personal images side-by-side with others can help to bring young people together.

“We are all brothers and sisters and we have to know each other,” said Hiba, 16, from Syria. “Especially because, living in your own country, you don’t realize it as easily.”

“The most beautiful effort was their effort to improve and develop by challenging themselves through these pictures,” added the mother of one workshop participant.

Addressing ‘sensitive issues’

As part of the Bridging the Gap workshop, the group of young photographers headed to Bosra, an ancient Roman city, which lies several hundred kilometres south of Damascus. The study-trip gave participants an opportunity to implement on the ground what they had learned in the photography lab.

© UNICEF/SYR05376/Krzysiek
Workshop participants exhibited their work in an art gallery in Damascus, Syria.

With specific tasks – such as highlighting aspects of gender integration and equality through photos – the trip aimed to bring the participants together and make them feel like a team. The participants worked in mixed gender and nationality groups to achieve common goals.

“The best way of addressing a sensitive issue is a practical exercise,” said Ms. Denman of the Refocus Project. “The trips bring [participants] together, make them live the workshop together and experience these issues together. They look at the issue from different perspectives and then have to produce one composition. It’s not an easy task, but it teaches them to collaborate and to respect each other.”

Building confidence

A special moment in the workshop came upon the completion of the six weeks, when many of the group’s photographs were exhibited in an art gallery in Damascus – before travelling to London for display.

Rima, a 15-year-old from Iraq, looked at her exhibited photo: “This photo is so quiet,” she said. “This is a quiet public park. That’s why I like it. When we were in Iraq the bombing sounds were everywhere around. I wanted to forget this and run away from these sounds.”

Rima’s 17-year-old brother, Tariq, stood close to his sister. Like many of his peers who fled violence in Iraq, Tariq had been kidnapped and had experienced the death of a family member.

Rima and Tariq moved to Syria to restore their lives. However, strolling among reporters and camera flashes at their own art exhibit, they found much more than safety in Syria – they found renewed confidence.

“I feel important,” said Tariq, keeping a close watch on his photo that featured the Iraqi flag.

Ms. Denman added that building confidence was another of the workshop’s goals: “It is all about trust,” she said. “Their trust in themselves.”

*all adolescents' names have been changed for this story



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