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  • Articles by Mary

    A Lens on Syria at the Imperial War Museum

    A Lens on Syria at the Imperial War Museum, London



    Many voices in the media, government, and religious communities, have tried to comment on the devastating events in Manchester and at London Bridge. The horror that’s been felt has evoked language which is passsionate and intense but sometimes also sensational and histrionic.  The result has at times been hackneyed and clichéd, with the genuine emotion swamped by the dramatic language. 


    What a contrast then to visit Sergey Ponomarev’s A Lens on Syria at the Imperial War Museum.  These photographs by the Pulitzer prize-winning Russian photographer are part of the museum’s current exhibition Syria: A Conflict Explored which is part of their Conflict Now programme.    


    The exhibition is made up of two sections.  The first is three rooms of photographs entitled “Assads Syria” which document life in Government controlled Syria during 2013-2014. The first room contains pictures of people’s lives in Syria, under an oppressive regime but before open conflict.  There may be tensions but there is also normal life, cooking, eating, being with friends. Further pictures document the destuction of this life and, most dramatically, of the physical structure of their city.   Several photographs show a ghost city which appears to be entirely rubble.  In one, a family are loading their remaining possessions into a taxi surrounded by debris. In another, a man stands on a street with his bicycle, quietly watching tanks burning in the distance


    The second part of the exhibition is The Exodus from Ponomarev’s Pulitzer-prize winning series on the migration crisis of 2015-2016. This is a projection of 46 digital photographs of refugees.  The titles are low key and factual—“refugees waiting to enter …, refugees giving thanks for arriving at … refugees being refused entry to …, man protecting child from cold.”  The people look ordinary, they could be the friends and neighbors from the preceeding photographs. Some of the images are of desperate actions, climbing in a train window, swimming from an inflatable dinghy, but more are still and totally passive, waiting and waiting. 


    Neither Ponomarev or the Imperial War Museum pretends to offer a solution to Syria. This is not agitprop calling for a political response.  Ponomarev’s great skill is in connecting us to the human experiences he observes.  His use of undramatic words and his choice of everyday situations are central to his style. By highlighting the human and the ordinary he allows us to see more clearly the extraordinary events and contexts in our world.  


    Until 3 September


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