Photographic Exhibition: The Spring That Never Came

Photographic Exhibition: The Spring That Never Came

Friday, 28 April 2017 - 9:00am to Sunday, 18 June 2017 - 8:00pm
Investcorp Lower Gallery, Middle East Centre, St Antony's College


Images from the Syrian Revolution by Maciej Moskwa

Syria is plunged in war. A few months before the violence became prohibitively dangerous inside the rebel-held provinces of Idlib and Hama the Polish documentary photographer Maciej Moskwa made two trips to the areas occupied by the Free Syrian Army. Some of the photographs exhibited here were taken during those visits; others come from the very beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Maciej Moskwa
is a Polish photographer and a founder of the TESTIGO DOCUMENTARY collective of journalists, which focuses on social, political and environmental issues. He teaches photography at Sopot School of Photography in northern Poland. He has been documenting the Syrian conflict and war since 2011, and co-authored a book on it entitled Sura (2016). He has won a number of prestigious photographic awards including Grand Press Photo. 

About the exhibition

I went to Syria in March 2011 to photograph a Kurdish holiday called Newroz when an anti-governmental demonstration in the city of Daraa took place. Syrian security forces arrested, imprisoned and tortured teenagers for writing slogans against Bashar al-Assad. Soon demonstrations spread throughout the country. The first protests I saw were in Damascus in the Umayyad Mosque from where people took to the streets and the nearby souk. The demonstration was quickly pacified. I frantically photographed security forces beating people up but it was not long before I was arrested too, and lost most of my images. Only the memory card hidden in the scarf wrapped around my neck survived.

The revolution started, and then the war broke out. I came back to the Syrian-Turkish border to photograph the results of this fratricidal conflict. Together with the Polish journalist Rafal Grzenia, I visited the rebel–held provinces of Idlib and Hama twice. While we traveled through the terror-ridden country we met thinkers, rebels, frightened civilians living in sleepy towns, doctors saving lives and extremists who were to steal the revenge-seeking heart of the rebellious nation.

In 2013 I also photographed the work of the Polish Humanitarian Organization as it distributed aid to people squatting in underground vaults, starving and plagued by low temperatures, airstrikes, diseases and terror. We met Syrians who fought on two fronts – against the state dictatorship and the religious oppression that was yet to spread. Those Syrians paid the highest price.

Since 2013 Syria has witnessed the most horrible war atrocities imaginable, ones that passive observers were very rarely aware of. Chemical weapons have been used widely, ethnic and religious cleansing has been common, and so-called barrel bombs have forced millions of civilians to flee their homes. In the 21st century people have been starving to death in cities besieged by government forces. The so-called Islamic State emerged to commit crimes against representatives of all religious groups residing in Syria and Iraq.

We returned to the Syrian border in 2014 and at that point in some Turkish towns one could see more Syrians than Turks. The war had entered its next phase, with ever greater radicalization of fighters. Media outlets stopped sending their foreign correspondents to the region after a series of kidnappings and brutal executions of journalists. In autumn Islamic State attacked the Kurdish town Kobani. The next wave of hundreds of thousands of refugees reached Turkey. Russia sent their troops to Syria in 2015.

Today, when you are looking at these photographs, Syrian cities are being hit by air raids and bomb attacks. The people you see here may already be dead or are trying to escape from the madness of war. ­­ My friend Chalid Issa died a year ago; he died for trying to show how the world looked from where he stood.

Maciej Moskwa
Translation: Kaja Wawrzak
Editing: Anna Ready (Oxford University Press)