‘Blue Hour’ shows a woman doing laundry and kids playing in the backyard. It’s a moment of the daily life of the Kurdish city Erbil in Iraq. Iraq: the hidden life
The photo is made in March 2017. A time in the history of Erbil that’s hard to describe due to the threat of IS. As I experienced it, people were careful in contact and stayed home most of the time. Life was hidden behind closed doors and walls.
‘Blue Hour’ is made right after sunset and before darkness. This is the moment where there’s a strong colour of blue in the light. The colour lifts up the grey concrete of Erbil. As a result, making the surrounding almost surreal blue.
In daylight, the city looks grey and misses sparks. Many people I met, describe the city as boring. Although I don’t agree with that statement, I do understand where it’s coming from. With little entertainment and only a few interesting sights, Erbil is mostly made of houses and offices. Something that could easily be interpreted as boring.
The situation at the time of making the photo gave the city even fewer sparks. ‘Blue Hour’ was made in March 2017. At that moment an international coalition was fighting against IS in the nearby town Mosul. Although IS never reached Erbil, the developments of IS had a big impact on the city. The daily life came on hold, leaving the city at daytime empty and quiet.
The hidden life
What you see on the photo is a city that has developed itself from the American invasion of 2003 as one of the most prosperous cities of Iraq. Before the rise of IS, Erbil constructed fancy apartments (see more about that here) and even facilities for tourism. Commercial centres were coming off the ground and even a hop-on-hop-off bus was presented to guide tourists in town.
In March 2017 tourism and prosperity were on hold. At that moment, the city was the temporal home for all of the people involved in the international coalition and those who escaped out of Mosul. Military helicopters were the only noise you could hear during the daytime. Meanwhile, the daily life of people was significantly interrupted as everything was focused on stopping IS.
In these circumstances getting into contact with local people was really difficult. The daily life of people in Erbil was hard to see. People stayed home most of the time. The little people in shops, the bazaar or on the streets were cautious about my camera.
The making of
Overlooking a city, you see everything. Still, you have no idea what’s is going on behind the walls. During my stay in Erbil, I try to find spots to see a little bit of the daily life. Honestly, it was harder than I thought it would be and it didn’t work out that well.
At one of the first days in Erbil, I went to the rooftop of a hotel. The place was filled with construction work. Workers were rebuilding what once was a fancy bar. The hotel was mostly empty. Employees were surprised seeing someone who wasn’t a journalist.
I stayed on the rooftop for an hour to watch the view in the changing lights of sunset. It’s an open door to say that it’s beautiful to see different colours of light in the city. Light can make everything look different. And so it was for Erbil. See more about the view here.
Coincidentally I saw little children playing outside. Showing a part of the daily life of Erbil. The kids were playing in what is most likely their backyard. While the woman was doing the laundry, there were more children and people outside of the houses. I only had to wait for the moment they were on the right spot.
And so ‘Blue Hour’ was born.
At first, I wasn’t satisfied with this photo at all. I even didn’t want to do anything with the photo. Technically ‘Blue Hour’ isn’t the best photo. Because of all that was in front of me, I paid less attention to the technical aspects of my camera. In my mind, I should have made this photo better. It honestly came as a surprise that during expositions and on Instagram ‘Blue Hour’ was getting so much attention. Although it took a while, I see the photo with different -more positive- eyes now.