Documenting Syria

I have spent a month in Syria looking at the war in order to understand why this war is happening. At the moment I am in the process of writing about my experience. I had the opportunity to talk to many people from political, military and humanitarian wings of the new Syrian opposition. My intention is to give as clear a description of what I found as possible. With that, I also took many photos of what I saw and they form a chronological record of my time in this fascinating country. After two years of war I find the people very resilient and resourceful. What really amazed me was the children, how they deal with the war really encapsulates the spirit and determination of this people.

I will be making exhibitions of my pictures from Syria that form a narrative to the human side of what is a very difficult situation for so many people. Here in this post are a very small number of images that give a taste of what I have done. Click on the link to see information about my photo documentary book Syria: Refugees and Rebels

Update August 2014. I am now planning to work on a new project with Syrian refugees in Jordan and I could use your help. You can see more about it in my article here Syrian refugees: Rebuilding their future

Children in the Bab Al Salam refugee camp

The first major battle win by the FSA

Azaz, graveyard of the tanks. The first major battle win by the FSA

This boy was injured by shrapnel. His father is rushing him to a field hospital

This boy was injured by shrapnel. His father is rushing him to a field hospital

I was across the road when a cannon shell hit this apartment building. Fortunately nobody was hurt

I was across the road when a cannon shell hit this apartment building. Fortunately nobody was hurt

FSA fighters. Front-line Aleppo

I had to get into a sniper position to get this photo. Was by far my riskiest shot

I had to get into a sniper position to get this photo. Was by far my riskiest shot

They have no international help. They build shelters with what they can find

They have no international help. They build shelters with what they can find





131 thoughts on “Documenting Syria

  1. It’s so hard to view photographs of children in a war. Thank you for posting these, because I know we need to. I’m curious if you did gain the understanding you were seeking, as you stated–about why this war is happening?

    • Hi Faith. Yes, I got the understanding of what is happening. Also the children of Syria are more resilient than you realize, they really tell the story of what is happening.

  2. I think this is amazing, congradulations! I would love to visit Syria, seeing as how I have family there. It’s incredible that you were able to go. Please feel free to check out my blog! 🙂 Good luck on the rest of your journey!

      • Well, time will tell. Egypt is getting fundamentalist, Tunisia is headed there, but it all started as a fight for democracy.

      • Syria is not by nature a sectarian country. Yes they value their tradition and Islam is integral to their identity but the people are very strong and will kick anybody in the ass who tries to impose an extremist form of Islam on them, the people prefer classical Islam that creates an open Society and believes that God is the judge, not us. And don’t mess with the Syrian women, they are much stronger than the men and are the driving force behind much of the revolution-

      • Artmoscow, you should really think before you go out saying incorrect things.

    • It was the children that really surprised me also. Despite all the hardship, the majority of them deal with the situation very well and they all want to be able to start school again.

  3. Phenomenal (and profoundly necessary) photography mate. I’m no expert on the subject but a lot of “war photography” – particularly from the mainstream media – makes me very uneasy as it seems to be little more than an attempt to capture human misery for shock value. This however, was the complete opposite – you balance the fear and the carnage of the conflict with resilience and humanity… and I was able to get a sense of the people rather than just the shit that is happening to them. Thank you.

    • Thank you Steven. My objective from the start has been to try and give as balanced a view of what is happening as possible. Also my focus is very much on the human element of this conflict and by only focusing on the bad it would not give a true portrayal of how strong the Syrian people are.

  4. Great pictures. I’ll look forward to seeing more. Glad to hear the women are strong, but hard to believe they are behind the way, as you suggest in a comment.

  5. You are doing brave and important work. A friend of mine is a photojournalist who has worked mostly out of Gaza — the risks you people take are incredible! Thank you for sharing the photos and giving voice to these stories.

  6. Amazing work, thanks for sharing! I lived in Syria and I fully agree, it’s hard to find more resilient, smart, warm, strong, confident people than the Syrians. I loved my time and the people there and am heartbroken to see what life is like for them now.
    Have you had a chance to talk to people about the reasons behind what is happening? I’ve heard very mixed views and I’d love a first hand account of what people are saying.

  7. Thank you for sharing. I was in Syria for a week tour two years ago, just days before the war erupted. Our tour group went through out the country, and was able to talk to the people as well. they are very nice people, and its very saddening to see the people as well as the whole country going down.
    I work in the Middle East and I have a lot of Syrian friend who are too scare and can not go home to their home country or even lost their relatives during the last two years.
    Because of the above things I am working on series of post of the Syria I remember, and still wishing to visit it again one day.
    Images of my collection can be seen on my gallery post on “Remembering Syria”:
    More stories of Syria the way it was before the war:
    Looking forward to your next post.

  8. I have been there in 2010…the country was awesome….Souks, food , culture , soaps … Its so pity seeing those pictures of decadence !!! It bleeds the heart , such a pain !

    • It is a beautiful country, as are the people. They have been extremely warm and welcoming to me. Now the country is in ruins, there is so much to rebuild when the war finishes but the people are strong and they will do it.

  9. So what is your take on what is happening there? The people are resilient, yes, but what do you gather is the driving force behind the fighting? I’m reading and hearing a lot of conflicting information on that now, with some sources indicating an Al Qaeda tie up, etc., and some not.

    • The driving force is thew fact that the vast majority of Syrian people had enough of being oppressed. As for Al Qaeda, there are some small groups operating but nobody, including Jhabat al Nusra, wants anything to do with them.

  10. Wow, what an incredible post and photographs Mr. Chapman. It’s so terrible to see the effects of war. What are you doing over there in Syria? Thank you again for sharing these pictures.

    I am doing a blog currently on inspirational stories of people who have overcome adversity in life and I am sure you or those you met in Syria have those stories to tell. Would you be willing to be interviewed by me about those experiences? I would be more than willing to show the link of your blog onto mine.

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  12. Russell, thank you. As the world twiddles it’s thumbs, Syria burns. The occasional media story appears, usually only if there is an atrocity. Atrocities are big business, they get ratings. However the media interest wanes. Consequently the public interest follows the media’s like a faithful dog. The Western world stands by and watches. Unwilling to jump in, as unlike Libya and Egypt there is no black gold at stake.

    I admire your brave step to document the skirmish/conflict/civil fighting/war (delete as necessary). The word hero is used too frequently and in my opinion for small things. I am reticent to use that term.

    You sir are a hero.


    • Thanks Danny but by no stretch of the imagination am I hero. The Syrian people are the heros. I have just met a women who spent 13 months in Assad’s prisons for her work. I will be documenting her fairly soon.

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  17. Amazing and incredible pictures, the image produced by passing a high risk that requires the courage to go through trials and witnessed there. Mr. Russel, how do you relieve the fear there? I was touched to read and see your photos. Mr. Russel, your pictures tell a lot. Congratulations to continue coverage there and may God protect you, Russel. I look forward to more. Wish the children there was protected by God and the war soon ended. May peace in Syria and peace everywhere. Thank you so much.

    • Thanks for the compliments Mande. To be honest, fear was not the biggest sensation, it is more a situation of having to be very aware of your surroundings at all times.

      I would love to return to the refugee camps and continue my work raising awareness of the suffering of the people. I am looking for a sponsor who will help me to do this.

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  19. Dear Mr. Russell Chapman, the popular uprising in Syria is a farce, that has fueled yankee intelligence in an attempt to destabilize the major regional power that is Iran, an ally of Assad. To do so, takes advantage extremism and sectarian divisions of Islam, using as a fighting force the terrorists of al-Qaeda. There Syrian Free Army, there is no democratic alternative to Assad. There is only al Qaeda and the American and Saudi interests around the hegemony in the Middle East and supply of gas to Europe.

    • Dear Michael,
      I agree with what you say about the attempt to keep Iran inside its box, reduce its ability to control the region. As I have said in other of my posts. The situation in Syria has now become a proxy war. On one side there is the USA and Saudi Arabia, on the other side with Syria there is Iran and Russia. Into this mix, Sunni fundamentalists are being used to fight against Shia militia as well as the ordinary Syrian people.
      As you see from my pictures, I was in Syria, I met the people, this is a popular revolution but it has been hijacked by international politics. If the people had been permitted, then this situation would have been resolved long ago and there would not be the religious extremist problem we see now. The vast majority of these extremists are foreigners, not Syrian. The Syrian people, although tired and they want the killing to end, still believe in the revolution.

  20. Dear Russell,
    I visited Syria before the war started, in 2008, and I agree with all of what you said here. The Syrians loved their country, they were happy, they were peaceful, they were very kind and they were free. They are not fundamentalists, all they want is peace while others are tearing their country apart. I still find it hard to believe that such a lovely country has gone to war. I feel privileged to have seen the country it was before the war started though and I have very good memories of my time there and of the Syrian people. I have been meaning to write a post myself about my time in Syria in 2008 but I find it very difficult, knowing that the people and places in our photos might no longer exist.
    I am very glad that someone decided to tell the true story of what is happening in Syria because here in Europe we get so many different stories. I look forward to reading more of your work!

    • Dear Daydreamers,
      Thank you so much for the comment. Anybody who has ever visited Syria, will like you, have seen the warmth of the people. I try to explain that they are not extremist, it simply isn’t in their nature. The problem is that foreign extremists are being encouraged to go to Syria by all the different players in the conflict. Everyone from Iran, Saudi, Turkey and the USA are using the situation in Syria for their own geo-political games. No thought is given to the ordinary people. I still have regular contact, the people are very tired and they simply want the killing to end. However, they still believe in their revolution, the call to have their basic human rights honoured. The big problem is that if the fighting were to stop now, the Assad regime would oppress the people even more than before the conflict started.

      • Yes exactly, but the question is whether the other outcomes are better or worse.. A lot of other countries are using this conflict to fight their own war and if they should be victorious, the Syrian people will have lost their country as well.. But then again, war always destroys what was before so it’s hard to see anything good coming from this..

      • That is the question indeed. If all the external players were to stay out of the situation then things could be resolved quite quickly. The chance of this happening is pretty much zero, so as you say, it’s hard to see how any good will eventually come out of the situation. But other events are going to become connected which will take everybody by surprise.

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