How is it to grow up in a war zone?
Three children are on top of the rusty frame of a car. A building stands unfinished behind them. Both structures are skeletons. The boy on the right is wearing a child- sized uniform of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish army. Less than 15km away, men with the adult-sized version are securing what then was the frontline between Kurdistan and the territory occupied by Daesh, the so-called Islamic State.
In early 2016 I spent 3 months in Kani Sherin, a village close to Zumar, 50km north-west of Mosul in the Autonomous Region of Iraq Kurdistan. Here I worked on the reconstruction of a school that was destroyed while the village was occupied by Daesh for six months during 2014.
In my time in Kani Sherin I observed children playing amidst ruins, unfinished buildings and burnt-out cars. At night they fell asleep to the sound of air-strikes. I became increasingly interested in the gap between my own perspective and those of the children around me. I became aware that I could never know what is it like to experience childhood in this environment of instability and insecurity, where the presence of war is ubiquitous. Did the children of Zumar hope for a life outside of a war zone? Were they able to imagine peace, let alone prospects for a future? And how did they see their present?
Recognising these were questions I could not answer alone, I gave cameras to two of the young boys from the area, hoping to catch a glimpse of life through their eyes, while using my camera to document my own perspective.
My black and white photographs cut between landscapes and portraits of children. This contrast in subjects marks a clear dissonance between the damage and disorder of the physical surroundings and the vitality of childhood that continues regardless. Children play football whether the ground is grass or rubble. However there lingers a sense of seriousness in their young faces, an innocence that is noticeable in its absence.
The colour photographs taken by the two boys Omar Aziz Khader & Alaa Sabah Ibrahim focus on their friends and families, with their streets, their village as the scenery. Through this lens, life happens in the present tense, and in whatever the surroundings happen to be.
Looking at the photos taken by the two boys, in comparison to mine, the expressions on the faces of the individuals pictured are very different. This raises interesting questions as to the role of the foreign photographer, and the effect this stranger’s presence has on the subject, and the very particular perspective their images then offer us.
The Autonomous Region of Iraq Kurdistan
Accounting for more than 30 million people, Kurds are the largest stateless people on this planet, with a Kurdish majority populating a territory spanning an area across the borders of Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The Kurdish independence movement demanding an independent state dates back to the late 1800s. In Iraq, with the political vacuum after the invasion in 2003, Kurds established the Autonomous Region of Iraq Kurdistan, which is almost completely self-governed.