Whenever I say that I make fine art photos of Middle Eastern countries, people presume I make photos of conflicts and wars. In some way, there’s a logic behind this thought. In the daily news, Middle Eastern countries are mostly broadcasted because of conflicts. Truth is, that I do the opposite. I make photos of daily life situations without covering the news. In fact, I actively avoid conflict areas. But even without going to conflict areas, conflicts do have an impact on the photos I make. Photographing in conflicts.
Before explaining my point, I want to make one thing clear. What you see in the news is exceptional. It’s news because it’s unlikely to happen, it’s rare. That’s why it is news. Because there’s little known about some areas in the world, people are likely to believe that what they see in the news is happening everywhere in the country. People fill in the unknown gaps with the only information they have. The vision is born that conflicts happen in every corner of the country. A generalization that is based on a lack of other information.
Truth is that every conflict, war, or violence is not able to define a whole society or country. The best example of that is -in my opinion- Iran: the words of the government of being at war with America do not represent large parts of society. On the contrary: people are extremely open to Western people and have no -or little- negative words of America. Read more about it here: Iranian Politics. Photographing conflicts.
Also, a conflict can be active in some parts of the country while being dormant in other parts. The intensity of a conflict is different in every part of a country. Time is also a factor. In long-existing conflicts, there are ‘safe’ times. Meaning that the conflict is latent for a timespan.
Whenever I go to Middle Eastern countries to photograph, I make sure I don’t go to places where conflicts are interrupting daily life on a high level. For example: when I was in Iraq in 2017 I visited only the area of Erbil in the Kurdish part, a city that was safe. In Israel/Palestine I avoided protests and violence in Ramallah and Jerusalem that were happening at that moment.
First of all, I do this because of safety reasons but also because it’s not my focus on storytelling. There are amazing photographers with a focus on conflicts, but it’s not my focus.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to avoid the consequences of conflicts. And even more unfortunately conflicts are part of the daily life of most Middle Eastern countries. Even without the presence of active interruptions, conflicts are visible in daily life.
The photo at the start of this article is an example of that. The photo is made in Tel Aviv, Israel. A woman walks toward a shopping center between soldiers. Although the Israel/Palestine conflict was quiet at that moment, which means no bombings, the conflict is visible in every part of the country. The same situation was visible in Kurdish Iraq. In 2017 IS had no ground in this part of Iraq, but helicopters, tanks, and a high-security level dominated daily life.
In sum: conflicts are visible in the daily life of most Middle Eastern countries. Yet, the active parts are not my focus. By following the news and social media I know where to go and what to avoid. What is left to photograph are moments in which people are living. Sometimes as good as it gets, sometimes very good, sometimes very bad. Underneath all the political and social struggles, there are people who are loving, crying, laughing, and living. And that is my focus of photographing. Photographing conflicts.