Tens even hundreds of photographers covered the « Yellow Vests » riots that broke out in Paris over the past three weeks… Though covered by many, we would like to shed the light on four photographers who had a special relationship with the uproar and were able to document it from a perspective that was more original.
Exiled and now living in France, the four Syrian photographers Zakaria Abdelkafi, and Ameer Alhalbi from Aleppo, Sameer Al-Doumy from Duma and Abdulmonam Eassa from Ghouta near the capital Damascus took their cameras to the streets to cover the events in Paris.
Recognized by Agence France Presse (AFP) for their photographic approach their images were distributed, earning them a story on the AFP blog.
Having been witness to the loss of friends and loved ones, seeing their cities turn into rubble, they were forced to flee their neighborhoods and their country in search of a better life.
Photography became their profession, and documenting the recent demonstrations in Paris was instinctive to all four photographers.
The protests, which began on Saturday, November 24 and were recurrent on December 1 and 8, have become pivotal moments in the professional and personal life of each of them.
Abdulmonam Eassa was a freelance photographer for AFP in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus. Arrived in France just two months ago he gives us his impressions. “When I thought of my new life in France, I saw a quiet life, where I rebuilt my life and learned a new language, made new friends, and lived peacefully in a peaceful country. Then finally, I resumed my work as a press photographer, but outside of Syria, covering the protests of “Yellow Vests” in Paris. It was amazing and very different at the same time. Astonishing, because it was very violent, especially in a civilized country like France. Then it was different, from Syria, especially because of the great ease of circulation of journalists during demonstrations. I was very cautious and at the same time, I smiled after the explosion of a thunderbolt or a tear gas grenade because it was relatively normal compared to everything I had seen and experienced in the past in Syria. I think I will continue to take pictures because I’m a photographer and that’s what I like to do. ”
Sameer Al-Doumy arrived in France over five months ago. He left Syria a year and a half ago following an evacuation operation that took place in the Qaboun neighborhood near the Syrian capital. Sameer has been working with AFP since the end of 2014. In 2016, he won the Picture of the Year International (POYI) in the Spot News Stories category, awarded by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute of the University, in Missouri.
“Since I arrived in France, I did not think for a moment that I would live something similar to what I experienced in Syria,” says Sameer. On December 1, this idea shattered when I found myself covering the “Yellow Vests” demonstrations with my friends Abdulmonam and Zakaria. When I saw the clashes between the protesters and the police, the explosion of sound bombs, whose sound reminded me of shrapnel explosions in Syria … With a difference in the results! I found myself breathing the smoke of the tear gas, which made me feel good despite the difficulty of breathing: I remembered the first days of the Syrian Revolutions, the best days for me, as for many Syrians when our friends, family and loved ones were alive, before our country turned into ruin and we were forced to leave. Unconsciously, my head compared everything that was happening in front of me to what was happening in Syria … Many painful memories have come to the surface. And at one point, while I was among the crowd of demonstrators, I heard someone say in French: “It’s the war” … I could understand what he said despite my French stammering. I laughed, I knew the person did not understand this word. I thought, “It’s not a war! I know it’s more violent than what you’re used to, but it’s not war. It’s not even close!”
“Another difference with Syria is that the police allow you to enter the protest area if you have a professional camera! The policeman told me that if I was a journalist, I had to show my official press card. But I do not have one yet. So I took out my phone and showed some of my photos. He was impressed by the pictures and immediately let me through. In Syria, if you have a camera, security stops you. We always had to stay away, as far as possible. “
“I was surprised that we could move so easily,” says Sameer. “You can take pictures with the protesters and accompany the police. In Syria, you can not be close to the police. They do not want a picture. If you do, they will stop you. We can just disappear (be removed). Everyone knows it. And then, if we take the photos with the police, we are taken for an “agent” by the protesters. Here, the police are also filming people. But here, no one like us has been accused of being an agent working for the authorities. ”
“In Syria, we can never take pictures that we see protesters and police together,” says Zakaria Abdelkafi. “Here you have a lot of pictures of protesters talking or shouting at the police.” It never happens in Syria. You do not approach the police if you protest. It’s impossible. He adds: “In all the archives of images of the Syrian revolution, there is not an image on which we can see both the Syrian regime’s forces and the demonstrators who oppose them, but here it is totally different ”
Zakaria arrived in Paris in early 2016 after an injury in Aleppo where he lost an eye. He worked for AFP in Aleppo since the summer of 2013. He returned to work in Paris with the agency. His photo of a policeman during the violent demonstrations of May 1st, 2017 goes around the world.
“I like the picture I took of this policewoman. She saw me and smiled when I took the picture, you can read it in her eyes. For me, it is an image that summarizes a little these events. She let me take this picture and she even smiled … It’s something inconceivable in Syria. ”
Ameer al-Halabi arrived in France in the spring of 2017. One of the key witnesses of the fall of Aleppo, He won the same year one of the most prestigious awards of the profession, the World Press Photo in the Spot News Stories category as well as other international awards. Ameer studies photojournalism. at the Speos Institute.
“We work as a team. In Syria, it was a little bit of everyone for themselves, by definition. Here we are together all three, with the other photographers of AFP. Having had the chance to survive the war in Syria, what we are experiencing here is just fun.”
Ammar Abd Rabbo is a French Syrian photographer, artist, and journalist.
This article is translated.