“Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011, what is shown about Syria isn’t always beautiful. It’s a sad reality, but in an effort not to forget the human beings behind the conflict, we decided to show the world other faces, other realities.” These are the first words chosen to describe the idea behind ‘Syrian Eyes of the World‘, an international photography project created by Youssef Shoufan and hosted by ‘La Maison de la Syrie‘.
The photography collective archives “this part of History that we are living in, the history of a mosaic nation that has lived in harmony for thousands of years, but that is now living difficult moments.” They are non-denominational and have no affiliations except “respectful, quality and aesthetic ones.”
Speaking to Global Voices Online, Youssef Shoufan described his own story leading to the Syrian Eyes project:
I'm an independent multimedia author born in Damascus and loosely based in Montreal. My passion for traveling, people, words and photography are united in this first collaborative project I created which is Syrian Eyes of the World. My curiosity led me to studies in journalism, and this academic background, combined with my passion for art, are two elements present with this photographic project: information that is presented in an aesthetic way, in our case with a social purpose.
While discussing with a photographer friend of his, Shoufan realized that he himself was prejudiced against the Arab World:
In October 2013, while discussing with my photographer friend Tamara Abdul Hadi, she made me realize something I wasn't really aware of: I myself had a lot of prejudice against the Arab World. So I bought plane tickets and found myself in Lebanon two months later, with the objective of changing the perspectives I had at that time. I knew these two weeks would change my life, but I didn't know how yet. On my first day in Beirut, I met Antoine Entabi with whom I connected right away. Meeting other Syrian photographers Madonna Adib and Zaki and Ziad Alasmar, we all knew we had to do something. When I went back to Montreal, I gathered all the ideas together and decided to create Syrian Eyes of the World. Right away, I got to meet Syrian photographers with great talent like Khaled AlWarea who joined our team for the launch of the project. I also got to meet all these great people who accepted to participate to our project, and helped me learn a lot and see things differently. We can say I am mostly inspired by people.
So who are the subjects? What's their story?
Most of the people we photographed in our first year were people we knew, but there are also Syrians we got to meet through the project, or others that are simply anonymous. Some of them are in Syria, others are in different parts of the world, some who left recently or a long time ago. Despite what's happening in Syria, their stories are most of the time filled with wise words and hope, things we usually don't hear since the focus is most of the time on violence, death, religion and politics. We show peace, life and the many other layers of Syrians. Everyone has a story and interesting things to say. What fascinates me is how, with only a picture and a couple of words, deep emotions are transmitted and felt.
I asked him to give us an example of a person that touched him:
An example is Um Ibrahim who I first met in 2013 while she was working for NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh in Shatila, Lebanon. I knew she was a humble and hard working woman, but after my colleague Antoine Entabi took her portrait, I had even more respect for her. “I care for one thing only: how I’ll let my children reach the highest ranks, study and succeed, even at the expense of my labor. I haven’t seen a thing of my life, all my life is about work, and I try to be the father and the mother of my children.”