Here we are in the 21st century and I think it is safe to say we are living in a time when the world is going crazy. Conflict seems to be the order of the day, Israel/Palestine, Russia/Ukraine, Syria, Iraq. Add to this, social conflict, the ongoing unrest in Ferguson in the USA is testimony to tensions which lie under the surface of so much of society. It is a wonder that anybody still watches the news, it is all too much for many people to take in. Yet, despite all this trouble, people are people, wherever you travel in the world. Everybody essentially wants the same thing, security, a home, education, a job so they can look after their families. On an individual level, the vast majority of people have no desire for conflict, no matter where they come from in the world or what their religion might be.
I have seen all this with my own eyes, that even under difficult circumstances, everybody simply wants to get on with their lives. When I was in Syria last year to photo-document the war, as well as visiting refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, I amazed at the strength of the human spirit and warmth of the Syrian people I met. Too often in the news, Syrians are portrayed as either bloodthirsty animals, cutting off heads, or as pathetic creatures living in the dirt as refugees. What is left unmentioned is the warmth and kindness of the vast majority of ordinary Syrians who would love to be able to get on with their lives. This was the strongest image I came away with and yet it is so often ignored in the media. It is much easier to focus on the negative instead of the positive.
When I came back from Syria I published a book and have been invited to speak about and show my work at international refugee crisis conferences at Franklin University in Switzerland, Oxford University in England and the Conference of Forced Migration in Washington DC. I have done interviews for various international media, my last being for World Refugee Day on June 20th with China Youth Daily, one of the largest newspapers in China. In all of this, the focus has always been on the human story, highlighting the humanity of people who are living through extremely difficult circumstances. I am working to bring a different narrative to the way events are reported, of course negative things are happening too but it is about time we we are also made aware of the positive.
With this in mind, there is a documentary project, photographic and written, I would like to do. I want to return to Jordan and look at how Syrian refugees are working to rebuild their lives away from their own country. Many are starting small businesses so they can support themselves and their families. I have stayed in touch with a number of Syrians who are now in Jordan, I want to document how their lives have changed since I last saw them. This project is very much about focusing on the human story, showing their human spirit despite the many difficulties they face. Instead of focusing on the usual images of religious extremists, or children covered in dirt in refugee camps, I want to widen the narrative, to show the bigger picture, that fundamentally Syrian people are no different to you and me. People are people.
Ana has been very kind in allowing me to make this guest post on her blog, its purpose is to ask for your help. The last time I was in Syria I funded everything myself, at considerable expense, including the book and exhibitions which came after. For this project, I have started a crowdfunding campaign to cover the expenses. I’m asking for your help to fund my documentary project about the Syrians in Jordan, which will produce a book and exhibitions in Europe and the USA. Please go to the project page at Indiegogo for more information. You can also see more about me at my blog http://russellchapman.wordpress.com/
Video of me working in Syria