The November issue of National Geographic has a cover photo of what looks like a mummified cat under huge letters reading, “Egypt’s Animal Mummies: Pets of the Pharaohs.” Almost anything the Ancient Egyptians did is intriguing, including their affinity towards cats and their penchant for mummifying both humans and animals. Also in this issue is a story called, “Reinventing Syria”, a piece written by Don Belt and photographed by Ed Kashi.
Syria, for better or worse, is presently one of the most instrumental countries in the Middle East. To list a few brief reasons; it borders Israel and is in the middle of a tepid dispute over an important and historic strip of land, since 2003 it has been housing an unprecedented number of Iraqi refugees (which is taking a toll on the educational system and its internal demographics) and is in the midst of an understated and under-publicized political sea change that will have ramifications on everyone around them. Syria is far from uninteresting and we need to know more about this place to better understand the Middle East.
The article has 3 acts. The first briefly divulges some of Syria’s incredible history, illustrating its variety of inhabitants/occupiers and finishes with “Dr. Bashar”, the current president (and successor of his father) who’s political strategies to privatize many parts of the nation (which in recent years has tended to look more like a former Soviet State in many aspects – including the dictatorial) are changing the landscape of the country, and finally the impact this has had on the culture of the nation.
After reading this article it is clear that Don Belt is a very impressive author and his 3 acts are subtle and well crafted. However, reading a play and seeing a play are two different things, and the photographs that National Geographic are publishing add faces and characteristics to the article.
This is a photograph of the Citadel of Aleppo in northern Syria, an official UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible and diverse history. A fortified palace used by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Islamic denominations, Mongols, Ottomans, French and finally… Syrian. This photograph is also Ed’s, and its addition to the piece is undeniably what the ‘first act’ needs.
Touching images of inside a children’s classroom, city streets illustrating the changing culture, and others depicting the intricacies of Syrian commerce, religion, agriculture, family and clearly politics make this article more compelling as each image reinforces the facts lain out by Belt. They put faces to the names.
This work is yet another example of Photojournalism as an art and informational tool.