Metrography, an agency founded in 2009 to represent and train Iraqi photojournalists, yesterday launched a website for an ambitious group project that emphasizes the human cost of the ongoing war in Iraq and the greater Middle East, which has entered a new phase since the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014. “Map of Displacement” tells the stories of 12 families and individuals who are among the 1.5 million internally displaced people who have flooded into the Kurdistan region of Iraq since ISIS began to claim territory and terrorize civilian populations in the country.
The site aims to give people outside of Iraq an understanding of how conflict has effected “the real victims of the war, which are not the people who go fight it but are the people that are caught in-between,” explains Metrography editor in chief, Stefano Carini. It’s a particularly poignant story as refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere are struggling for asylum Europe and other countries around the world. Before people become refugees, most are displaced internally by conflict, Carini notes. “This is the story of every single person that is displaced. All the Syrians, all the Afghans that are now traveling to Europe, at first they were internally displaced people.”
The 12 “Map of Displacement” subjects include a pair of families—one Christian, one Sunni—sharing a home in Kirkuk; a family of shepherds displaced multiple times by al-Queda and then permanently by ISIS; and a barber who fled Tikrit for an IDP camp after his shop was burned during the ISIS invasion in 2014. The stories of the displaced are organized on the site according to a timeline of six displacement events that have occurred in Iraq since January 2014. An interactive map visualizes the journeys these and millions of others have made to relative safety in Kurdistan.
Each of the five Iraqi photojournalists who worked on the project—Aram Karim, Bnar Sardar, Hawre Khalid, Rawsht Twana and Seivan Salam—had themselves been displaced, in some cases multiple times, by wars stretching back to Saddam Hussein’s al-Anfal genocide against the Kurds in 1988. “Our photographers actually know firsthand what it’s like to be a refugee and what it’s like to be displaced,” Metrography co-founder Sebastian Meyer told PDN. Meyer, Carini and Metrography photo editor Dario Bosio also reported stories for the project.
Carini initiated “Map of Displacement” after witnessing the influx of refugees into Kurdistan in August 2014. He and Metrography’s photojournalists were covering the persecution by ISIS of the Yazidi population in northwest Iraq, which caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee into the mountains. During a three-hour car trip, Carini was floored by the number of IDPs along the road he traveled. “It was very heavy, very apocalyptic, it was tens of thousands of people. Everywhere you looked, on the side of the streets, churches, mosques, schools, unfinished buildings—they were all packed with people.”
Feeling the IDP crisis would be ongoing, Carini also believed—rightly—that the influx of IDPs into Kurdistan, a nation within a nation that has a general population of just five million, was also “a story that nobody [else] will do.”
Displacement was so common to Iraqis that he initially had to convince the Metrography photographers that it was something worth covering. “It was interesting because something that effected me very heavily personally didn’t effect them the same way,” Carini recalls. “They wanted to do the project, but they didn’t see the urgency that I saw.”
Metrography funded the project through a combination of support from Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited, a longtime partner; a crowdfunding campaign; and donations from individuals. Fundraising was a struggle, Carini says, but they managed to pay the photographers so they could work over time on the project. Carini paired the photographers with writers from New Zealand, the U.K. and Syria who are based in Iraq.
“I hope that people understand that this is the story of many millions [in Iraq and around the world],” Carini says. “We did 12 stories because that’s what we could do…. I hope the website will reach as many people as possible, people will read the stories, will look at the photos and will connect to the human aspect.” Carini also hopes the site will help Metrography find the resources to organize an exhibition and book for the project.
Part of the founding mission of Metrography was to develop Iraqi photojournalists by providing them opportunities and education. “Map of Displacement” was a learning experience for the five photojournalists, Carini says, because for the first time they had financial support for a long-term project. The photojournalists pitched 70 percent of the stories, he says, while he assigned others. “I’ve seen them grow. Through the war they all improved tremendously. Some of them were not photographers before. They could take photos, now they can construct narratives.”
Carini says Metrography is in a transition phase that will see photographers taking more control of the agency and figuring out how to carry on with their careers as international interest in Iraq fluctuates. Carini believes some photographers will work for the wires. “They are phenomenal wire photographers, they know the land inside out, and the wire photography offers them a sustainable way of living,” he explains. Others may apply for grants, work for international media, organize exhibitions and fix for foreign photographers when they need to. “They’ll have to invent something,” Carini concludes. “But its like that for everybody at the moment. We’re all in the same mess.”
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