Thursday 15 February 2018
©Shelly Kittleson
©Shelly Kittleson

Shelly Kittleson is a freelance journalist, originally from the US and currently based in Baghdad. She visited Syria for the first time in 2012, after starting her career in reporting in Afghanistan. Working in conflict zones as a freelancer means that Kittleson has to accept and plan for a certain amount of risk.

‘Unfortunately as a freelancer I can’t really afford a flak jacket a lot of the time,’ she said. ‘I try to borrow them, I rent them, if I can, I try to make sure I have some sort of protection but unfortunately that doesn’t always keep you safe.

‘The first time I got into Syria, I was nervous for a few days before, because sometimes they would let people across the border, sometimes they wouldn't,’ she said.

‘However, once you’re inside the country all of that disappears, and you focus on what you're doing and you feel it's so important to document what's going on.”

'It’s very difficult to talk about sometimes'

Opposition-held Aleppo, January 2015 ©Shelly Kittleson
Opposition-held Aleppo, January 2015 ©Shelly Kittleson

One of the most striking images captured by Kittleson during her time in Syria shows two young boys in a street in Aleppo, looking at the damage caused by a barrel bomb that had fallen near their house.

‘That was taken in January 2015, I was in Aleppo for New Year,’ she said. ‘The boys are looking at the remains of a school, a mosque and a house. I had been visiting the street the night before and had come back in the morning, I hadn’t realised the bomb had even landed as bombings were so frequent at the time.

‘Luckily, relatively few people were killed, but unfortunately a pregnant woman and her sister who had been waiting in the street for a car to taken them to hospital, they had died. Their bodies were still under the rubble when we arrived. I think the pregnant woman had six other children. The boys were there examining this new change to the landscape that the bomb had caused.’

Opposition-held Aleppo, late 2014 ©Shelly Kittleson
Opposition-held Aleppo, late 2014 ©Shelly Kittleson

The changing nature of the conflict was reflected in the different arrangements Kittleson had to make while travelling around Syria during the course of the time she spent there.

“In 2012, I didn't have to wear a headscarf in Idlib, I had no problems except once when I went to a meeting in the basement of a mosque,” she said.

‘By 2013 I already to wear a headscarf and as of 2014 to get through certain checkpoints I had to wear a niqab.

‘However as of March 2015 we've not been allowed by the Turkish authorities to cross legally at the border by Bab al-Salam which was the main crossing for quite some time, where they would stamp us in and stamp us out.

Opposition-held Aleppo, January 2015 ©Shelly Kittleson
Opposition-held Aleppo, January 2015 ©Shelly Kittleson

Having experienced the conflict first hand, Kittleson says that international response to the events unfolding in Syria often fails to take into the complexity involved.

‘It’s very difficult to talk about sometimes in all its different facets,’ she said. ‘Once thing I have noticed is that people tend to treat this war like a football match almost, you're either on one side or another, and they don't really want to discuss it as what it really is.

‘People don't have any idea of the history of the country, they see a president in power who has been educated abroad and wears a suit and so forth, it's a particular image.

‘We have become a society that deals much more in images than words, we don't read so much and I think that has affected it quite a lot, we're not used to dealing with complexity as much and I think that has hurt our humanity let's say, and our ability to reason.’

Related Content

Syria: a conflict explored
Syria
Why Is Syria A Complex Conflict?
Despite its simple origins, Syria’s conflict is anything but. What began as a peaceful protest movement challenging an autocratic government has evolved into a complex multi-layered war. Domestically, despite capturing territory from the Government early on, opposition fighters have been divided, allowing Assad to slowly reclaim some lost ground. 
Abu Hisham Abdel Karim and his family use a local taxi to salvage possessions from their ruined apartment in the Khalidiya district of Homs.
© Sergey Ponomarev for the New York Times
Contemporary conflict
Sergey Ponomarev: A Lens on Syria
Sergey Ponomarev was one of very few photographers allowed access to the Government-controlled areas of Syria in 2013-2014. Assad’s Syria offers a rare insight into what life was really like for people living there.
Free Syrian Army
© Rick Findler
Contemporary conflict
Photographing the Free Syrian Army with Rick Findler
During a trip to Aleppo, Rick Findler took this image of Free Syrian Army fighters using a catapult to fire home-made explosives.