I spent a part of my honeymoon in Aleppo, Syria, despite my relatives warnings both from New York and Beirut. While applying for a visa 6 months prior, amidst news of fallen cities in Syria that had begun to protest the government, I felt a sense of surreal futility while arguing with Syrian Embassy officials in DC regarding the delay of our visa. You could hear the concern and uncertainty in their voices over the phone.
I had studied Arabic for two levels of study in reading and writing, prepared for months in advance and purchased almost impossible airline tickets to make this trip happen and I wasn't about to let fear hinder my plans.
Our itinerary was complex, fit for espionage films of our day, NYC>IST, IST>BEI, ALP>IST, IST>NYC. You may notice a geographic gap in out itinerary, between Beirut and Aleppo. Our original romantic getaway was leading us on a drive up the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon and Syria, toward our eventual destination (and subsequent flight back to the US) in Aleppo.
While in Beirut, we had no sense of any protest, war or disruption occurring in the neighboring country. Lebanon seemed to be in its famed and infamous disarray all on its own, the type of urban drumming and ebbing flows, in the same family of my New York experience.
The only indication of the situation in Syria was through the lens of extended family who had been there recently or had Lebanese news to reference. The former, my relatives, had assured me that there's nothing going on in the country, that he was there as recent as a month ago and that there's nothing to fear. My wife's relatives, however, struck a deep fear in us just before our departure. On a hot nights balcony in the picturesque and historic Parisian Ashrafiya district of Beirut, at the Hayate Hotel, we were strictly warned not to go.
"They are barbarians, they will kill you, Syrians are a left-back culture, you don't know what you're entering into." And we didn't know...
So a few flight arrangements (and an unexpected trip to Jordan) later, we cut short our trip from 4 days by car to 40 hours by plane. Instead of driving through Syria, we would arrive and stay in Aleppo.
The sense of urgency filled the air everywhere, from Armenian mother on the plane out of Amman, assuring us there's nothing to worry about, to the passport control inquiring as to what the meaning of "Graphic Artist" meant on my visa, to our relatives pointing out which trash cans had "The Offices of Al Jazeera" spray painted on them and which buildings belonged to the Mukhabarat (secret police).
When I shot these, that importance and the heightened awareness of the feeling of watching something ephemeral, coupled with the sense of being watched, led me to shoot 1800 photos over the course of 40 hours.
Surveillance became a theme as reflected by the experience and the condition of the country at the time. Surveillance that brought security and safety to the minds of my relatives, that the situation at the time was temporary and that the government would soon restore stability and peace. And Surveillance as the cause of fear, as an American in Syria, the concerns were easily drawn toward false assumptions in the direction of suspicion of espionage, working for clandestine intelligence agencies or the ilk.
What proceeded was recording normal life in Syria from the perspective of those who would be in positions to watch the world from clandestine points of view, regardless of vocation or affiliation. Normal everyday life recorded from afar became of absolute importance. Every child walking on a sidewalk, mother crossing the street, person selling cigarettes or handing out fliers gained an ulterior meaning, a higher representation.
These photographs are being published here for the first time since then and are part of a future exhibition.
For now, be aware and continue.