I have a new project. Can you help?

I have been developing the idea for this project since I was in Syria last year to photo-document that terrible conflict as well as spending time in Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. What impressed me the most was the warmth of the people despite all the terrible hardship they are suffering.

I need your help

Syrian child in Zaatari refugee camp.                      “I need your help”

Millions of Syrians are now refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and they have very little international support. Because of the circumstances they have to find ways of supporting themselves and their families. They are doing this by trying to find work but there also are quite a few who have started small businesses. Syrians are extremely resourceful, they have to be. This project is about telling the stories of these people as they find ways to rebuild their lives in a foreign country. I have kept many of my contacts with Syrians in Jordan. The plan is to follow up on them as well as meet new Syrians to see how their lives have changed in the last year. The objective is to show that although they are refugees they are no different to you and me, they desire security, a home, education and a job. Refugees are often portrayed in the media as pathetic creatures living in the dirt, I want to show their humanity as they work to rebuild their lives.

The project’s ultimate goal is to publish a book which tells the individual stories of those I will meet, interview and photograph as they go about rebuilding their lives. There will also be exhibitions in Europe and the USA as a continuation of the book and exhibitions I have already produced from my time in Syria last year.

I will also donate 20% of the profit from sales of the book and any photographic works to buy medicines for Syrian refugees. Many cannot afford the medicines they need, particularly for the children, this project will be of direct benefit to those who need help.

I now have a crowdfunding project at Indiegogo.com to help me complete what I feel to be an important project which will give a voice to many who can show the humanity of a people in a difficult situation. Please go to my project at Indeigogo and have a look and watch the video. With your help we can give a voice to those who have lost and suffered to much and really draw attention on an international scale to a people who simply want to live quietly with their families.

Even if you can’t help directly but you still believe in helping your fellow human beings then please share this appeal with as many people as possible. Anything you do is very much appreciated, thank you.

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Oxford University, Refugee Studies Centre

Thanks to my curator, Professor Johanna Fassl, they have asked to have an exhibition of my Syria photography as part of an international conference

RSC Conference: Refugee Voices – Refugee Studies Centre

Syrian women: Their suffering and endurance

AsmaaI want to start by talking about Asmaa (pictured above). I met her in Jordan, five days after she had been released from a regime prison. She is the fiancée of Abdul Razak Tlass, who was the first officer to defect from the Syrian army when the revolution began. She was captured transporting a Kalashnikov in her bag after a tip-off. She told me about how she was interrogated, made to stand up without break for hours on end and deprived of sleep, but nothing they did could get her to give the names of who she had been working with. When you see her eyes you understand immediately how much she suffered. I know she wasn’t telling me the full story of what happened to her. Considering the fact that the use of sexual violence by the regime is not unknown, I have the suspicion that something like this happened to her. When you look in her eyes as she talks about her experience it is clear that terrible things were done to her. A part of her soul died in that prison.

But something very interesting came out of my talking to her, she was in a cell with nine other Syrian women, all different religions, Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze and Christian. They all came to love each other during their time in captivity and it is one of the reasons why she believes that the people of Syria can be united in the future and is something she feels very strongly about. So many in the West, when they look at Syria, think that the people are hopelessly divided and all want to kill each other along religious lines. Women like Asmaa, who despite all they have suffered, demonstrate that this is not the case.

She was only released from prison after thirteen months because the FSA swapped prisoners in order to get her out.  Now she is in the relative safety of Jordan and working to help her fellow Syrians as best she can.

One of the things I noticed about Syrian women in general is how strong and resilient they are. In the refugee camps, despite losing so much, they continue their lives in the best way they can, they cook and look after their families. Yes their standard of living is very much reduced, but they continue. Compare this with many of the men I saw who were in the refugee camps, who have lost their work, there is nothing for them to do, so they just sit around in groups with other men, drinking tea and smoking. Psychologically I would say that the women handle the situation better. They have something to do, the men on the other hand do not, and as a  result end up looking very lost and feeling quite useless.

On the surface Syria is very much a male dominated society but under the surface the women have a lot of influence. All Syrian men will tell you how strong the women are, never mess with a Syrian women, they half jokingly tell me. To be honest I don’t know how they keep going, the women, men and children but then again it isn’t as if they have much choice. They have become the victims of callous geo-political games with only power and influence as their objective. The governments of the world have proven that they are not fit for purpose. Why? Because they see the human suffering they cause as no more than collateral damage.

New exhibition

Syria: Facing the revolution.Opening of my exhibition on 15th November 2013. Syria: Facing the revolution: It features select photographs by UK born photographer Russell Chapman who travelled to the Middle East in the spring of 2013, documenting the revolution and its impact on human life in Syria and in the refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. For Chapman, “Photography does not mean to freeze what you just saw but more what you just felt. When we venture into our past, our memories are not like a continuous film that runs on in our head but more like images, in which we recognize forms that touch all of our senses.”

The exhibition is curated by Professor Johanna Fassl, faculty member at Franklin College Switzerland and director of Columbia University in Venice,