Shooting beyond the violence

A man carrying his shopping runs for cover amid sniper shots on an Aleppo road in Syria, September 14, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

By Marco Longari

Whether in Syria, Egypt or Gaza, apart from just shooting the violence, I always try to capture “private moments,” scenes that symbolise the daily life of people in a country gripped by war or unrest.

I captured the above photo in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, in September this year. At first glimpse, the scene almost seems normal -- a man in freshly pressed trousers and shiny shoes dashes across the road with his shopping bags. But the reason for his haste is because he is traversing an alley overlooked by snipers, and bullets are whizzing in every direction. He made it to the other side unscathed.

I shot 10 pictures of this man, one for each step he took. The scene reminded me of Sarajevo during the 1990s war, when Serbian sniper fire and shells rained into the city as people tried to go about their everyday tasks. 

While still in Aleppo, I photographed this father as he left a hospital, carrying his injured little girl. I had spent a long time at the facility, where I’d seen and photographed an array of unbearable things. I wanted to make a different sort of image, setting aside the fighters, battles and guns.

A man leaves hospital with his injured daughter in Aleppo, Syria. September 18, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

I was struck by the look on this young dad’s face, his overwhelming concern. In the background, a child is carrying bread. The way he hugs the food close to his body eerily echoes how the father is holding his baby. Finding food and protecting children. The two most important things in the world.

This Palestinian mother holds in her arms the small body her 10-month-old daughter, killed in an Israeli air raid in Gaza last month.

A Palestinian mother cries as she holds the body of her 10-month-old daughter, killed in an Israeli air raid on November 16, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

I had been in the morgue in Gaza, where doctors had just given the child’s body to her father. The father had wrapped her in a Palestinian flag and started heading home to let the mother say goodbye to her baby before the body was taken to the cemetery. But suddenly, he stopped in the middle of the road and turned around.

He realised the hospital had given him the body of another child. 

Once he had his own child’s body and taken her home, the mother started to scream: “Look, look! We have a martyr in our family.” This made a big impression on me -- the public side to the mother’s grief seemed to take precedence over her private loss.

I’ve covered many conflicts across the Middle East and elsewhere, but my recent experience in Gaza left an especially deep impression on me. One episode in particular changed my way of looking at things. 

As AFP’s chief photographer in Israel and the Palestinian territories, I worry enormously about my team members when their families face violence. That’s the case for our journalists in Gaza, whose families were at risk during bombardments from Israel. But this time, I had the opposite experience.

I was in Gaza covering the conflict when I learned that rockets launched by armed Palestinian groups were targeting Jerusalem, where I live with my wife and two kids. 

All the phone lines were down and I spent a long time without news. It took me a long time before I could function normally again. Now I know how my colleagues feel when they are in similar situations. 

Egyptian soldiers encircle the wall around the presidential palace, as protesters stand on the structure. December 11, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

The final photo is a shot taken on December 11 in Cairo, where I still am today. Egyptian troops were standing in front of a wall that protect the palace of President Mohamed Morsi. Protesters are perched on the wall and the soldiers are wearing outdated uniforms and helmets. And they are holding hands, looking a little awkward. It reminds me of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as East German border guards wearing Soviet uniforms looked on helplessly. 

-- Jerusalem-based Longari has been AFP’s chief photographer for Israel and the Palestinian territories since 2007, having previously worked for the agency in Kosovo, Africa and Russia/Georgia. His Time magazine announcement can be seen here.