Thursday 18 January 2018

'A picture that encapsulated the struggle of the Free Syrian Army'

'A picture that encapsulated the struggle of the Free Syrian Army'

Rick Findler is a photojournalist who has covered conflicts in Libya, Iraq and Somalia. He visited Syria four times between 2012 and 2014. 

During a trip to Aleppo, with reporter Benjamin Hall, he took an image of Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters using a catapult to fire home-made explosives into an area of the city supposedly held by Basharal-Assad’s government troops. 

'It was this huge catapult, made out of metal and rubber,' he said. 'Sometimes they'd light these explosives and fire them and they'd would go bouncing off the wall and we'd all have to run to get out of the way ebfore they exploded.'

The picture helps to illustrate the changing nature of the conflict as Findler saw it.

‘When we first visited Syria, it seemed to be a simple conflict, with the FSA rising up against Assad. We saw anti-Assad demonstrations,’ he said.

'But subsequently, you would encounter jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and it became clear that this was a much more complicated situation.’

The number of groups involved in the Syria conflict made it difficult to cover the unfolding events in an objective fashion.

‘In Libya, there was a front line, whereas in Syria it was completely fluid,” he said.

'You’re always in danger wherever you are. And it’s very difficult to remain impartial if you’re covering a conflict and some of the sides don’t want you there. Assad’s troops wouldn’t let us follow them around, when Jabhat al-Nusra emerged they wouldn’t let us follow them around, for obvious reasons, so it was really just the Free Syrian Army who gave us access. 

‘And even then it varies between katibas [divisions or militias making up the FSA] – one group would be happy to see you and welcoming, but then you could go 100 metres down the road and meet another group and they would another group who were still part of the FSA but who genuinely disliked you being there.’

Findler had a very different experience during his time in Syria when compared with Sergey Ponomarev, the Russian photographer who was granted unprecedented access to government-held areas to produce Assad’s Syria, a record of life in the government-held regions of the country in 2013-14.

Assad’s Syria is being displayed at IWM North as part of part of IWM's Syria: A Conflict Explored, a season of exhibitions and events reflecting upon the ongoing conflict in Syria.

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