SYRIA ON THE MOVE
The Social Visions association organises photo workshops with young refugees from Syria. Morad Deeb talks about his own experiences.
My name is Morad Deeb. I’m 24 years old and I come from Syria. I was born in Homs and grew up in the city. I studied engineering and was in the third year of my course when I had to leave the university after I joined the opposition to the regime. I belonged to a small group of students who opposed the regime. We documented everything that happened in Homs: the demonstrations, the siege of the city, the arbitrary attacks by the Syrian army, the destruction and the hunger and desperation of the population.
I was in charge of processing and disseminating images. Every day, I sent images and texts around the world via social networks. Photography became the only means of communication available to me. It was my contact with the outside world, a chance to tell the world what was happening in Homs. A large part of the city was surrounded by the Syrian army, which left the population starving. We documented everything. It was a desperate attempt to shake the world awake after it had closed its eyes to the events that were taking place.
When the fighting became more intense and the situation increasingly hopeless, most of my fellow students took up arms. I had to decide whether to fight or leave. I went to Damascus and joined a small group of students opposing the regime. We got caught. We were being monitored, our activities spied on. I landed in secret police’s notorious “215” prison under suspicion of having fought with the rebels. I was interrogated and tortured. Some of my friends are still in prison. Many have died. Thanks to some of my family’s private contacts, I was released, but the secret police continued to monitor me and I was regularly summoned to interrogations. I left Syria shortly afterwards and went to Turkey where I tried to settle down. I looked for work and became a volunteer in refugee camps that were accommodating 1,000s of Syrians and getting bigger every day. I had no intention of completing my studies in Turkey and the chances of a better, paid job were slim. As my brother already lived in Germany, I decided to come here too and build a new life for myself.
Since then I’ve been living in Potsdam. At the beginning, I had lots of time on my hands and I wanted to do something interesting. I saw an advert for the SYRIA ON THE MOVE workshop on the Internet and signed up straight away. I wanted to learn more about photography and expand my knowledge, but more than anything I wanted to use photography for something other than documenting suffering and destruction.
What I liked most about the workshop was the teamwork. We developed ideas and looked at participants’ photos together. Seeing other people’s photos and discussing what motivates them and why they took these pictures brought us closer together.
In the workshop, I also learnt how to design and carry out the content of my own projects, so everything I used to do instinctively I now do more consciously. I also take a more critical look at my own photos. My aim is to take pictures that are more than just documentation. I’d like to tell stories that go beyond the present moment. That’s a challenge and it isn’t always easy. What is my story? Where am I from? Where do I want to go? I’m not really interested in the technical side of things. Sometimes I make mistakes, but I’m not bothered.
In Syria, I documented the war. Everything revolved around this one topic. In Potsdam, I didn’t know what to photograph. Shopping arcades? Nicely plastered houses with no bullet holes in them? We talked a lot about how I can describe my situation better. It was a good opportunity to understand my own situation and my new life in a foreign land better, and also to understand other Syrians’ attitude to life. I believe that everyone has their own story and that everyone must tell their own story. I have started to think a lot about our similarities and our stories. Now I see Syrians differently.
I’d also like to tell a story about flight, a story that explains why people have to leave their home and culture. Why have we escaped? Why are we leaving everything behind? I also hope to tell a story about Syrians. We’ve all had different experiences, we all come from different families and regions, and we all have different stories. Some people have lost everything, but essentially we all share the same fate.
For me, photography is like a weapon. I’m convinced that images can make a difference. I still believe in the power of pictures but I’ve lost my faith in the world. What good is a picture if no one deals with what’s in it? Images meant everything to me and it took me a while to understand that they don’t really affect anyone. But I’m carrying on. I still believe that I can change things. Step by step.
Transcription: Anja Pietsch
Editorial support: Maritta Iseler