Projects of The Clay Civilization and Stolen Antiquities
- July 3, 2020
- Posted by: admin
- Category: Interviews
March 20, 2020
The art of photography has formed a world of astonishment, and the documentation of fleeing moments. This is why it is not strange that while we are living in the most severe cases of violence we consider the judgment to be absent if it is not being shown by the image. So they said, being a photographer means that your voice is heard.
Given the importance of the image, the Syrian photographer Kamal Oghly saw that his portrayal of marginalized places in Syria made him discover the extent of neglect, poverty, and marginalization that the Syrians suffer from. He realized also that the picture is the strongest visual language in the Syrian revolution, which revealed the true face of injustice and tyranny. This scene suffices to condemn the world through the image, “Imagine if our pictures had not reached all parts of the world, what would have happened?”
Because we live in the time of the image that entered history, diaries, beauty, the identity of the place, media, and all areas of life. We had this interview with the Syrian photographer Kamal Oghly who specialized in documentary photography.
On his philosophy of photography and the importance of the image, he says: “I try to seize the time and place with the snapshot to fix the moment before it runs away. The successful photo for me is this moment. In addition to working on the idea of the image as a project to write with the visual language what I want. Besides my love for the image that glorifies life, beauty, nature, faces, poverty, and the culture of the place.”
He adds “photo is an art and the most important component of the visual language the world understands. It is the most important tool that beauty can provide, along with music and other arts. This is why vision is not enough and the photographer must feel the photo.”
“The picture shocks you and shakes your soul at some point, as it is in times of wars and famines. It presents you with things that the language may not be able to describe, provide a different reading from the language for many topics, and condense it in an area no matter how small. The eye can read it easily and effortlessly, that is the advantage and magic of the photo.” he explained.
The beginnings of the passion:
He points out that the beginning of his experience with photography was in 1980, he says “At that time I was working on several projects as a hobby with a group of friends in the Photography Club in Damascus. I had a Russian camera “Zenith”, which my father gave me as a present.”
“I started as an amateur and I was encouraged by many friends, some of whom were important professionals and artists at the time, and they helped me develop my photography skills. They told me that I have a distinct artistic eye and a real talent, which pushed me to pay more attention to photography and soon it became a real and magical passion for me,” he added.
Professionalism and travel:
Because each photographer has his mark, and each picture has its own language, he distinguished between the hobby, which is considered a luxury, and the professionalism that combines the aesthetics of the image and the profession.
“Shall I say it is the way or the travel towards the image that caused this art to occupy me at the beginning of the experience for ten years. I photographed many subjects, nature, portraiture, and archeology, after which I stopped this art because of my work conditions. Later, I returned to photography with strength and decision, so I decided to professionally work on documentary photography to satisfy my hobby and passion.” He said.
He continues “What drew me to photography was seeing things differently through the lens, the subtle details of any subject. I used them to present subjects that I photographed and show their aesthetics and importance. On the traditional rules of photography in terms of the composition of the elements, the linguistics of the image is very important. The color and its connotations, small details, the combination of sight and insight, and the intensification of the feeling in the image.”
Documenting marginalized places:
Ohgly’s experience was a state of diversity and was distinguished by what he observed in the place. What drew him to this world, and how he proceeded to the project, especially documenting marginalized places with the image. “Until I finally settled on documentary issues that concern and serve people.”
He continues “One of the most important topics, if not the most important in my life which I worked on, is the project to document marginalized areas throughout Syria. Especially the countryside in 2007, this project which I consider to be one of the most important achievements of my photographic career. It showed me the reality of the Syrian situation, far from frills or magazines. I photographed all cities and more than 90 percent of all villages in Syria, and I discovered the extent of neglect, marginalization, and poverty that most Syrians and all regions suffered from. In addition to gaining high artistic experience with this type of photography as it is the most difficult type of photography for its comprehensiveness and many details. Now, I have a very important archive for this topic, suffice to say that despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of professional photographers around the world, the photographers who have worked on projects similar to the one I have worked on do not exceed 200 photographers in the world.”
The Clay Civilization:
Regarding the image of the clay civilization, and the amazing images that he documented, he says:
“Clay civilization was the last exhibition I prepared for display, and the purpose of this exhibition was to shed light on the history of Syria, its civilizations, and its originality from the dawn of history. This land for more than 7 thousand years, which they seek to destroy now, and erase our identity.”
He left Syria to Sudan. There he was concerned with the struggle between the north and the south, and he was also attracted by what he saw from a popular Sufi dimension. So he worked on these two topics. He says “I left Syria in 2009 for Sudan for work, and I stayed there for more than four years, and my work has led to two exhibitions, the first on the necessity of unity and common factors between North and South, and I photographed topics that serve this project. The second exhibition was a result of hard work on documenting the project on Sufism. Sudanese society with the aspect of Sufism and Sufi groups drew my attention, and I began to work and the idea expanded to include documenting Sufism in several countries for its social impact. But the project was temporarily stopped due to the Syrian revolution at the time, and secondly because of my move to Turkey and my inability to return to Syria due to my stance against the regime, but I still insist on completing this project until the appropriate conditions are available.” He continues “I tried to complete the project in Turkey, as it is one of the most important Sufi centers as well. But I wasn’t able to obtain financing for the project so far as it requires large expenses that I cannot afford on my own under my current circumstances.”
Nature and a return to beauty:
After his arrival in Turkey in 2014, he mentioned “I visited several Turkish cities, and photographed various subjects, including archeology and nature, which I had been excluded for a long time from photographing. What motivated me to return to embrace nature is the aesthetic diversity, the movement of the seasons, and my need for this beauty, so that I can regain my balance after I was forced to leave my country, and forcibly displaced due to the tragic conditions. Nature is a high laboratory of beauty, art, and visual language. Color is a true treasure, no matter how many pictures I take, I will not be able to cover it all.”
Theft of Syrian antiquities:
Regarding the reason for his interest in antiquities photographing, and the obsession with fear that prompted him, he says “Photographing antiquities in Syria took place at multiple periods and stages of time, through group and individual trips, as time permits. I had a huge archive on the antiquities of Syria, and my interest in photographing the antiquities was entrenched in my memory since I was young because of their importance for representing history and identity.”
He points out that he was keen to hold an exhibition “I shed light on the violations of Syrian antiquities that are being destroyed and stolen by the regime and terrorist organizations, such as Al-Nusra, ISIS and others. I suffered for three years until I was able to finally exhibit it in France, and while preparing for the exhibition the organization that was helping me to make the exhibition asked me to train young Syrians in photography.”
He continues his talk about his transition from photographer to teacher: “When I was asked to do this profession, I felt confused and afraid. It is true that I am a professional photographer, but I have never tried the profession of teaching in this field before. After careful thinking I accepted the challenge and entered this field that took me to a new world of educating adolescents and youth of both genders and discovering their talents, supporting them, and helping them develop their skills in several fields other than photography as well. Within three years the outcome was about 300 students who graduated as photographers who are proficient in photography, 27 of whom are professional artists, the oldest of whom is not more than 23 years old, and we have worked on five exhibitions which were important for these young men and women during that period, as they achieved a remarkable public presence.”
Because the image is the face of condemnation, it played an important role in documenting the crimes of the regime, and everyone who came and stood with him. About the importance of the image during nine years of revolution, war, and unparalleled violence, he says “The photo played a big role in showing our suffering to the world from torturing detainees to beating people. Pictures of destroyed cities, people under the rubble, a mother’s cry, a crying child, severed children, an absolutely distorted homeland. The image is still a real voice to wake up sleeping consciences. Imagine if the image along with technology did not play its role in delivering our voice to all parts of the world would have happened?
He continues “I remember Jean Locke’s quote (Violence is what it leaves a mark) which is what the image does. Without a picture, our massacre would not have revealed to the world, and the executioner would have escaped punishment, same to what happened in Hama massacre in 1982, although the regime obscured it, but he could not erase the trace or the memory.”
He notes “In our great revolution, brave young people had the needed means of communications, especially the mobile phone and the camera. They were able to document what is happening and some of them were turned into war correspondents and photographers. Thanks to those young people who broke the barrier of fear and the prestige of the regime and their weapon was the image.”
A document that cannot tolerate forgery:
On the other hand, he confirms that the photo is a document that cannot tolerate forgery “You may say there are programs that fake photos, and I can reply that there are many programs that can discover this type of forgery. A very important example is Caesar pictures which is the first of its kind in the world where laws and sanctions were created and applied based on those horrible images. Not to mention one of the most important cases right now which is our detainees in the regime’s prison. Currently, there are some organizations that are working on this subject and “Najoon” is one of them which I had the honor to work with but only for a short time.“
Spread image culture:
On the importance of visual language, as an aesthetic dimension, and the importance of spreading this culture among the general public, he says “In my opinion, visual language is the most important, through which we meditate, speak, also suffer, or amaze, then describe what we see, and write what we see. One picture can tell a story, a poem, and a tragedy.”
From this standpoint, and due to the poverty of the visual culture in our societies because of ignorance and the systematic prohibition of the image because of its danger to the regimes. So I took it upon myself to spread the culture of the image either by training young people or by creating a channel on YouTube that devotes the slogan of enhancing the visual culture.”
He adds “Through this channel, I try to deliver different messages, including the effect of the image on us based on immediate and long-term topics. As well as how to properly read it and understand the messages and topics, and take into account, and how to invest it in freedom of expression”
He also pointed out that there is another side to the channel which is “Shedding light on the works of many Syrian photographers and their work whom hardly known, and their important archive which embodies different and important stages of Syria’s artistic and documentary history.
“According to my knowledge, there is no YouTube channel that deals with the same content, so I wanted to be the first initiator in this important field. It is a platform to talk about the image and my constant passion for it and what it means to me in terms of grief, sorrows, lessons, facts. Its importance and the importance of its realistic, imaginative, and aesthetic philosophy at the same time for me and for all people.” he added.
Awards and recognition:
He answered “Receiving an award is a special moment for me. The award signifies a permanent recognition of my own style of work, especially when that sublime sense of feeling of the image. The award also encourages me to work hard and take other good and even better photos.
What is the portrait or photo you wish to capture?
The photographer always misses shots he wished to take during his artistic career. For me, I missed many beautiful and wonderful shots of the faces of beautiful Syrian grandmothers, the circumstances did not allow it to be achieved, and I still regret it. I hope I can go back in time to make it happen.
Levent- Interviewer: Faten Hammoudi