In his beloved city of Damascus, Syrian photojournalist, Hasan Belal, captures daily domestic scenes, confronts the challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic and reflects on humanity’s innate need for connection. Travelling just east of Damascus, in eastern Ghouta, he also chronicles the destruction caused by years of war and an urban landscape left severely scarred.
We get behind the lens with Hasan, an alumnus of the foundation, to see how he explores the possibilities of photography and showcases the resilience and endurance of the Syrian people that his work represents.
“It is not easy to cover life and war in Syria,” explains Hasan. “Freelancers like myself have to take heavy precautions when photographing in the streets of Syria and even in the slums of Damascus. I often find myself taking images stealthily.
“Any story that has a political or military angle is difficult to report. After 10 years of conflict, it is still prohibited. However, my work with local and international agencies and NGOs means that I’ve been able to produce some stories about life after war and have gained access to places that I wouldn’t otherwise have gained access to.
“My recent work highlights the socio-economic crisis in a post-war Syria through a photographic series on public transportation. For many Syrian citizens, it’s the only form of travel that suits their income but with that comes the recurring daily challenge of overcrowding, waiting and trying to reserve a seat on a service bus – this is amid the spread of Covid-19 and in the current framework of international guidelines for social distancing.
“The pandemic is making it one of the most difficult times to survive in a country with multi-layered conflicts. Governmental support for people with the virus is almost non-existent and not enough spaces are available in hospitals.
“Those who might have been infected or survived the virus are unwilling to appear on camera because of a fear of bullying. This is why I decided on observational street photography to highlight the impact of the virus on daily life and the precautions being taken by Syrians to safely enter the public realm.
The pandemic is making it one of the most difficult times to survive in a country with multi-layered conflicts.
“Picking up a camera and wondering around isn't an easy or simple task. When you cover a story, you need to be completely ready. You need to understand the area you are visiting, the story you want to tell and why.
“I try to focus on two things. Capturing interesting perspectives and keeping safe. I also try to make honest connections with the people I photograph, explaining my motives and what I hope to document and also finding out more about them. When you’re open with your subjects and build trust, you often end up capturing very natural, candid moments.
“The most important step for any story is the deep involvement and interaction with different groups of society without boundaries. This is what makes photojournalism valuable to me.”
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