A look at conflicts through the eyes of freelancers
London - Each photograph in the War Zone Freelance Exhibition tells a unique story about the suffering and struggle to survive in conflict, but little is known about the efforts and risks freelance journalists take to shed light on people affected by strife.
Founders of the War Zone Freelance organisation: Osie Greenway, Anne Alling and Benjamin Hiller, talked about photographs from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank and Turkey, a series that was first exhibited at London’s Frontline Club to educate the public about war and provoke discussion about the experiences and issues faced by freelance journalists reporting from war zones.
Alling’s photo of a girl in Gaza’s deserted streets battered by war drew particular attention. “When the ceasefire was about to end in Gaza, people would stay at home and the streets are deserted. However, I saw this little girl standing on the street by herself. This shocked me so I took a photo of her,” Alling said.
Another picture shows fishermen taking advantage of a ceasefire to resume work, Alling explained. She also displayed photos taken in Iraq in 2015 of a Yazidi family in a refugee camp after being held captive for nine months. The pictures were coupled with the story of the family and their experiences living under Islamic State (ISIS) control.
Greenway spoke about a picture he took of refugees arriving in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp in 2012. Security personnel did not let journalists stay in the camp after 4pm so he disguised himself as a refugee and tucked his camera in his jacket to stay for a week photographing new arrivals and the plight of the refugees.
“I got a glimpse into the life of a refugee. I lined up with them in food lines. I smoked shisha with them. You become part of their community in an extremely personal way. When I got sick, they took care of me,” he said.
Greenway’s images, taken in Kirkuk, Iraq, during fighting between Kurdish peshmerga fighters and ISIS militants, display graphic imagery of dead fighters. “People don’t see graphic images in the media much anymore so I felt like I was eyes for the world,” he said.
Hiller travelled to Syria for four weeks with the Free Syria Army in 2013 and saw the intensity of the fighting and people’s refusal to leave their livelihoods.
Speaking about a picture he took in August 2013 of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — a Kurdish militia in north-eastern Syria, he said: “It took us a few hours to convince them to let us into the front lines.
“Radical Islamist groups were several hundred metres away as we walked through trenches. It was boiling hot so we took a break in an abandoned house where we met the three women I took a picture of. They were from the female branch of the forces. What I liked most about the photo is the different facial expressions of the female fighters, which showed their different distinct backgrounds.”
Not all freelancers are able to publish all their work for several reasons, including poor pay, a problem that Greenway said sparked him to organise the travelling exhibition.
“Freelancers don’t get paid as much as they should,” he said. “While I was working in Iraq for six months with other freelance journalists, I had a bug to put together an exhibition. My colleagues’ stories are incredible but they were not being heard. People don’t really know the weight we have as freelancers,” Greenway said.
Alling said she hoped the exhibition gave insights into conflict and a behind-the-scenes look into freelance journalism.
Greenway agreed the danger that freelancers can put themselves in needs to be taken more seriously. “We are trying to tell freelancers that you are responsible for yourself,” he said. “If you don’t do your research, if you don’t know the area you are going to, if you don’t know the groups that are fighting each other, that’s on you.”
Underlining the importance of freelance journalism, Hiller stressed that “without freelancers, there would be huge parts of conflicts left unreported”.
One part of the War Zone Freelance project is a planned interactive memorial to local and international freelance journalists killed or missing while on assignment. It will specifically focus on Molhem Barakat, a young Syrian photographer, who was killed in 2013 while covering a battle in Aleppo, Syria.
The exhibition has been shown in London, Berlin and Denmark and will continue a tour in Europe throughout the year. There may be showings in the United States and Canada as well.
For dates and times,