Photographers in Iraq’s Mosul snap dark days, bright futures

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A photographer shows a girl a picture taken on his camera at Nafoura square in the Al-Zuhur neighborhood of Mosul. Residents have been hiring local photographers to capture mementos of their city’s darkest days. (AFP)
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A single picture costs between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi dinars, or less than $2. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2019

Photographers in Iraq’s Mosul snap dark days, bright futures

  • Residents have been hiring local photographers to capture mementos of their city’s darkest days
  • ‘We want a souvenir, a piece of evidence of the horrors Daesh perpetrated in Mosul’

MOSUL: Ashraf Al-Atraqji carefully stepped around tufts of weeds sprouting in a mountain of rubble in Iraq’s Mosul, found a seat on a sun-soaked rock, and struck a pose for the photographer.
Behind him stretched the ruins of the Prophet Yunus mosque, an ancient monument infamously destroyed by the Daesh group when it overran Mosul in 2014.
A year and a half after Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from Daesh, residents have been hiring local photographers to capture mementos of their city’s darkest days.
Looking out at the metal fences and barbed wire now surrounding what’s left of the mosque, 38-year-old Atraqji said he hoped those days never return.
“Each stone in this place is linked to the history and identity of our city,” said the father of three, his goatee neatly trimmed and wearing stylish sunglasses.
“I want to document what the terrorists did so that my children can build a future beyond these ruins.”
He wasn’t the only one. A little further up the hill, a couple positioned themselves near a concrete wall marred with graffiti as the sun cast a golden glow.
“We want a souvenir, a piece of evidence of the horrors Daesh perpetrated in Mosul,” said the 32-year-old woman, who identified herself as Um Mohammad.
When Daesh swept across parts of Iraq in 2014 it massacred civilians, leaving their remains in dozens of mass graves across the country that the United Nations says could hold up to 12,000 victims.
Militants imposed their ultra-conservative interpretation of Islamic law, destroying everything from centuries-old churches to musical instruments.
They even raided some 300 photography studios, tearing pictures off the walls.

Terrified of being fined or subject to Daesh’s horrifying atrocities, studio owners and photographers fled or hid their equipment.
Many of Mosul’s commercial districts have witnessed a modest revival.
Religious leaders laid the first stone to rebuild the iconic Al-Nuri mosque, and Dominican priests are saving 16th-century books and irreplaceable records.
Residents and the amateur photographers they’ve hired are doing their own kind of archiving, too, including open-air photo galleries and family portraiture.
Mohammad Dhia posed with his two young children in a recently-renovated square in the city’s bustling downtown.
Like many of Iraq’s 20 million Internet users — nearly half the population — he hoped to upload his shots to his Facebook profile.
“They’re high-quality, beautiful photographs and it’s my way of helping young photographers,” said Dhia, 27.
Clad in white trousers, a patterned burgundy shirt and dark shoes, he hugged his stylishly-dressed children close to him in the crisp Mosul winter.
When the session is done, Dhia slid a few bills to the photographer.
A single picture costs between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqi dinars, or less than $2, said photographer Mohammad Bassem.
For longer sessions lasting several hours, he charges between $20 and $50.
“I do this after my university courses, and it allows me to make a bit to help out my family,” the 24-year-old said.
Despite their cheap rates, these self-taught photographers have to shell out a sizeable sum to buy their equipment.
“Our cameras cost between 200 and 600 dollars,” said Bassem.
The square in downtown Mosul teemed with amateur portrait photographers carrying flashes, tripods, and reflectors to control light and shadow.
They gave directions to their subjects: stand up straight, tilt your chin, look toward the setting sun.
One young man posed with a guitar, another with a violin.
Some struck a pensive look while perched on a bench; others were lost in thought staring into a pool of water. Even members of the security forces, dressed head-to-toe in camouflage, struck a pose.
Photographers often went the extra mile by retouching the images to eliminate blemishes and brighten eyes.
But in a Mosul that remains broadly conservative, not everyone was willing to join in.
Noha Ahmed, 25, watched the amateur shoots from afar and said they felt too risky for her.
“I’m afraid that my pictures would be used for something and that it would cause me problems,” she said.


Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

Updated 44 min 45 sec ago

Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

  • Al-Rai said Adib’s resignation had ‘disappointed citizens, especially the youth’
  • Frustration at Adib’s failure to form government was voiced by Lebanon’s religious communities

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said on Sunday the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government, speaking a day after the prime minister-designate quit following his failed bid to form a cabinet.
Mustapha Adib stepped down on Saturday after hitting a roadblock over how to make appointments in the sectarian system, striking a blow to a French initiative that aimed to haul the nation out of its deepest crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pressed Lebanon’s fractious politicians to reach a consensus so that Adib was named on Aug. 31, is to due to speak about the crisis in a news conference in Paris later on Sunday.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class.”
Many top politicians, both Christian and Muslim, have held sway for years or even decades. Some are former warlords.
Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.
Rai’s comments were echoed on the streets of Beirut, where mass protests erupted in 2019 as years of mismanagement, corruption and mounting debts finally led to economic collapse, paralysing banks and sending the currency into freefall.
“There needs to be fundamental change. We need new people. We need new blood,” said 24-year-old Hassan Amer, serving coffee from a roadside cafe in the capital, which was hammered by a huge port blast on Aug. 4 that killed almost 200 people.
In nearby streets, walls were still plastered with graffiti from the protests, including the popular call for sweeping out the old guard: “All of them means all of them.”
Frustration at the failure of Adib, a Sunni Muslim, to form a government was voiced by many across Lebanon’s religious communities. Prime ministers under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system must be Sunnis.
A senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, said on Saturday Adib’s resignation as the economy collapsed could “be described as a disaster,” calling for national unity to deliver reforms, the state news agency reported.
The cabinet formation effort stumbled after Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded they name several ministers, including finance, a key role as the nation draws up a rescue plan.
Saad Al-Hariri, a former prime minister and leading Sunni politician, said in a statement he would not be involved in naming any new premier and said the French plan was “the last and only opportunity to halt Lebanon’s collapse.”
A French roadmap laid out a reform program for a new government to help trigger billions of dollars of international aid.