Since the beginning of Syria’s conflict, young local journalists have played a crucial role in documenting their country’s unraveling. With Western journalists largely barred from entering Syria, global news agencies have come to depend on video and photography by a dedicated band of men and women working in cities from in both rebel and government-held areas.
Here, we speak to Abu al-Hassan, 26, who has for the past year been part of a small group of photographers tracking fighters from the opposition Islamic Front through the mountainous southern region of Qalamoun.
I usually get informed about an upcoming battle a couple of days in advance so that I have enough time to get my equipment read – charging batteries, preparing enough memory cards. I also study the geography of the battle’s location in order to choose the most efficient and safest spot to shoot from.
We don’t have bulletproof vests. We wear the same uniform that the fighters wear so that we are not confused with the other fighting party. I usually get an AK-47 and four full magazines. Those are only used for protection.
We can’t stay in one spot. We have to keep moving, especially when battles are in an open place. The last battle I shot, Storage 559, was in eastern Qalamoun next to the Sien airport. The area is more like a desert. I first settled in the hills to get the best shots, but then a bomb fell very close to me. I had to move around very quickly in order to protect myself and avoid bullets and the explosive barrels.
We carry a first aid kit with us. We cover wounds and keep them clean until the injured person can be transferred to a hospital. Sometimes the injuries are severe and can lead to death. A friend of mine was killed when an explosive barrel detonated close to where he was shooting video. Unfortunately, it was his first and last media assignment.
We sleep on the ground. In one battle that lasted for nine days, we slept on the ground most of the time, and when we got sleeping bags, we felt that we were in heaven. In such battles we get very little sleep and sometimes we go sleepless for a couple of days. Regarding food, it is usually canned food that we carry with us. No real meals and no set times. Long battles are the most difficult ones because we can only carry limited amounts of food and water. Some of my friends say, “If we don’t die from a weapon, we’ll die of thirst.”
In the beginning, it was very hard. After every battle, I had difficulties sleeping, but I got used to it. I shoot with my camera, I get little sleep and I get up to shoot more.
When the battle ends I watch what I’ve shot. I choose the scenes that are clear enough and I skip the very violent scenes. Then I send the selections to the media office. They are responsible for editing and broadcasting. After that I can take a bath and get some sleep after days of being in the battlefield.
(Edited by Karen Leigh)