A War-torn Place in the Middle Eastern Photographers' Photos

Elaheh Abdollahabadi

This study considers the photos of Middle Eastern photographers who have responded to war in the region and the relationship between place and war in a more detailed. It also considers the role of war as an interloper element which replaces the habitat in the time and even stops it forever. In addition to introducing the intrinsic features of photographs in relation to place, it will be also refer to semiotic concepts. Then, the photographs of Middle Eastern photographers who have dealt with the issue of war in their city or country will be introduced and considered. [1]
The war-torn place is considered in the photos of documentary photographers who used an artistic approach, as well as photographers who responded to the accident and used solutions such as montage or photo destruction, based on definitions and attention to the concepts of photography.

There are common features in places; their sizes, dimensions, our distance from the objects, their distance of each other, location, ratio of objects, and their semantic relationship with each other and with us ... . At this level of exposure, "place," is a collection of real objects and things and have materials, matter, shape, texture and color. The set of these elements together define the environmental features of the place "(Partoei, 2003: 42). When we speak about being among these features, we actually define the interior concept against the exterior concept. Nuremberg Schultz introduces the inside and outside arenas as follows: "When places interact with each other and with the environment, the matter of inside and outside will be emerged. Therefore, this positional relation is the fundamental position of the existential space. Being inside is the First and foremost target of the concept of place, that is, being far from what is outside "(the same, 43).
If we define the concept of place as a general matter, and human reception of it as a particular matter, we must also consider the fact that places are different from each other and the experience of each person of a particular place is his or her own mental experience. There are different factors that shape and influence this intellectual experience; some of them are related to place, environmental features and constituents which make interior arena (or the same place) - and some are related to the individual / observer itself - why and how to enter the interior arena from exterior arena, Personality traits, memories and associations, and even height and direction of head and angle of vision, and so on are considered. Concerning the factors which are involved by the observer, we can say that "the place is not just a phenomenon that is in mind, but a phenomenon that is originated from everyday life and then becomes a part of it." (Bigdeli & Sharifi, 2008: 245) It should be noticed that the same meaning of ''place'' is defined in Dehkhoda's dictionary. [2]
Now, if we add the element of time to these concepts or if we aware of the time of the location which we are in it, for example being aware of an experience and its bygone, or even know what geographical coordinates were in the past, what did exist in the past time which we already have that memory in it, and ... our comprehension of that place becomes more complicated and not only effective in our lives, but in the combination of place-habitat. In such a place "time turns into something that is passing; the observer stands in the center and the past times are in front of him." (Sojoudi, 2011: 171)
To comprehend the concept of time-living of a place, the first experience of being in a city as random, can be compared with the sense of being in your own hometown and city of residence. In the first experience, you try to identify and define the places and shape your first memories. While in the second experience, you unconsciously try to redefine the place and flip the memoir in which case the future time of that place will be much clearer to the observer.

Place and War
Intervention of any force which is not of them forming a place will completely stop, destroy, or alter its existence. War as an interventionist element divergent both the nature and the living-place at the same time. The first change is in the displacement, deformation, and destruction of the environmental features of the place. In the meantime, the lines which separate the interior from the exterior will be destroyed, and the city, which is constituted of many inner and outer arenas, become a single scene or a single inner-outer place / arena. Before the war, there were discourses about the possibilities of combining and the converse of the place of environmental features and their effect on the observer of the place and considered his personality traits to be effective in acquiring dimensions and concepts. Now, in the outbreak of war we should consider the comparison and distinction possibilities; the front and back, right, left, and inside directions are no longer true for objects or places, and we are faced with a non-place.
Now, if war has happened in our hometown or residence place, in addition to disrupting spatial relations, temporal relations are also disrupted. The first one is that it stops our normal life and experience of the place; changing the feature of the city, our perception of it, as well as the process of redefining or reconstructing our memories and experiences, it will have an unexpected and often unpleasant process. The ratio of time to place itself is another subject which will be changed. The time of place will departs from its normal routine and the place and time will be stopped at the same time or waits for the restoration and return of daily life in the most optimistic way. War causes that destruction happen earlier- which may never happen due to periodic repairs and interrupts the temporal sequence of events. Consequently, it can be said that the result was moving from the converse to the sub-situation.

Intrinsic features of photograph in relation to the place
Taking a photograph is a combination of different components. The involved in photo production phase can be considered as the photographer’s attention and the interest to the place. the photographer incorporates, consciously or unconsciously, his or her mental history of the place of residence and his interest to it in order to convey its intended meaning in representing certain features of that place before or during the photography. The pragmatics of these components points to or challenges the intrinsic features of photography. In the introduction of the book "the eye of the Photographer" by John Sarkovski, some of these features are mentioned: things themselves, component, point of view, frame, and the time.[3]
 "The first thing the photographer learned was that photography works with reality, he not only had to accept that reality, but also he had to appreciate it." (Wells, 2014: 159). In today's world, the relation of photography to reality is considered simple at this level. I will consider the photographers' photos in this relation.
a photograph's details can be considered and compared to both painting the human's perception and the eyes. "The persuasive clarity of a photograph, in inscription of the ordinary events, showed that the subject had never been properly seen before or perhaps it had undetected meanings." (The same book: 160) On the other hand, it is considered that the exaggeration in the power of vision and the things that are seen in the photograph render the subject with the lack of artistic pleasure and beauty. The effect of the point of view of the photographer is more evident in conveying the scene's sense of content and the desired content of the photographer, while also have effect on other intrinsic features of the photo.
The frame of the photograph and its time can be considered as one of the most intrinsic features of photography; when the photographer faces with the place, he has ultimate choices. These elections are a reflection of the possibilities for converse of the time and the environmental elements. [4] What he chooses from the location varies with the equipment which can be used, the type of camera, if available, and the lens which can be chosen. The borders of the photograph, like the walls of a place, incorporate the elements which the photographer pays attention to them and give meaning to it; while at the same time eliminating the surrounding world and ignoring some parts of it. The frame does the same thing with the world as the boundaries of finding and concealing the outer and inner realms of a place. Framing and border creation mean selection, selection is based on absence, and absence is one of the characteristics of substitution relationships; all the symbols are in a  substitution set and just one of them was used in the context. (Chandler: 153:2008)
This absence is in the time of selecting photo as well. By considering the meaning of time in photography, the selection of recording the photo, again means ignoring the transposed moments in there, "Photography indicates the past and the future point when the photo exist in the present time. The past, through his surviving memoirs, narrates the future through present-day prophecy are indicated by the photograph. “(Wells, 2014: 162)
However, the photograph is recorded interactively with all of this, and among all temporal and spatial absences (selection from succession axes), but ultimately forms itself into a series of converse relationships: local converse and temporal sequence. “The local converse contains directions of eye movement are in the photo frame, although time is important, but place has effects on the time of seeing "(Chandler, 2008: 138) and we perceive time in terms of material things (objects and places) and motion. In examining of the photographers' photos, something more than converse relationship is needed. Huje and Treap divided the syntagmatic axis in a study "the converse elements which exist at the same time (simultaneously), different times (at the time), at the same place (at the same place) and different places (between two places).” (The same book: 152)

A war-torn place in the Middle Eastern photographers' photos
If there are no war interruptions, in the temporal and spatial sequences of the subject, the photographic cut will be a cut of a temporal time, as well as a moment's cut from one place. The locations of these photos act to disrupt the normal photo display system. As the photographer passes the event (war) and injects their lived experience into it, it goes beyond merely portraying the war-torn place. The timeliness of these places received in the moment of taking photo by the photographer (artistic documentary photography), such as the photos of Greta Torresian, or because Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Jeorge, after photography and even after the war add more concepts to the photograph (non-documentary photos) ... In this case, our reading of the photo will move along the syntagmatic axis.
The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer is the title of the first part of the three-part series on Wonder Beirut by Joanna Hadjithomas and Khalil Jeorge, based on the collection of a Lebanese legendary photographer named Abdullah Farah. He was commissioned by the Lebanese government to take photographs and publish them as postcards from 1968 to 1969. Postcards which still are sold and also they helped to shape an ideal photo of Lebanon in the 1960s. Most of the places they represent were destroyed during armed conflict. Since 1975, Farah has burned negatives and postcards, depending on the damage caused by gunshots and street clashes to the location where he was photographed, and took one photo each time a postcard was set on fire and produced photographs which were evolving. The second part of the series, titled Postcards of War or the story of a Pyromaniac Photographer, follows the idea of the first part with 18 postcards.[5]
Postcards, as one of the tools of the tourism industry while advertising a place to visit, can cause that not to achieve the actual experience of that place. "When the identity of the place is created by the mass media and away from direct experience, there is an artificial and mechanical identity that lacks the individual experiences and symbolic features of the place identity" (Modiri, 2008: 72). Farah, by burning postcards while destroying the subject in the real world, renders them out of capitalism, he metaphorically shows the place and the burn postcards as the results of the war on the outside world; thus, postcards becomes a place of war and gives a hands-on experience of the war time; so, it can be seen in the axis of time / place.[6]  On the other hand, the spectacular landscapes on the postcards turn out to be exhilarating matter and even do not encourage the viewer to see postcards.

Fig.1: Part One. The Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer Joanna and Khalil (right-side)

Figure 2: Part II. Postcards of War Joanna & Khalil Postcards (left-side)

 Figure 3: Part II. Postcards of war - Joanna and Khalil    

The Syrian Museum also adheres to the kind of relationships that govern On Wonder Beirut. Tammam Azzam left Syria at the beginning of the conflict and war. With the loss of his studio due to relocation, he was already a painter, started to work with digital media. In his first art-work, Freedom Graffiti to highlight the affliction of his country, he also exhibited Gustav Klimat’s painting name '' the Kiss'' on the walls of a bulletproof building in Damascus. This art-work is one of the photographs of the Syrian Museum collection. The artist has assembled photos of masterpieces of Western art history in war-torn places in Syria. Due to the time shift of the paintings to the photo location, the collection is positioned in the time / place axis.
In the latest collection, Bon Voyage, Azaam shows balloons which were flying a warlike building from the city of Damascus, flies over some of the world's most famous political sites and places of interest, such as the UN headquarters in Geneva. In these photomontages, the buildings beneath the balloons are also collapsing.   Bon Voyage has benefited from time / interpersonal relationships by assembling two places with two different times in one photograph. In both collections, the photographer bold the destruction of Syrian cultural heritage in order to draw their attention to the war-torn place; either he brings the West through Syria to his paintings or heals the destroyed Syria to Western landscapes. It seems that the photographer believes that these places as not worthy of being seen in the world, especially in the West. However, the photographer extends the destroyed time of the war-torn place through its montages and achieves a third time, as a result of the co-existence of the time and the bio-historical paintings or sights of the world.

Fig. 4: Graffiti Freedom, from the Syrian Museum Collection – Azaam

Fig. 5:  Bon Voyage- Azaam

The Iran-Iraq War, the longest war of the twentieth century, caused destroying cities or manipulated borders and environmental features in many places in Iran. The intensity of the destruction was so severe that the particular features of some cities were seriously undermined and the city became a place without site and without history. As a result, many residents lost their feeling of belonging and dependency.
After the war, Babak Kazemi collected the photographs of native people, soldiers and the war-torn cities on the plates which were damaged by quiver of the war-torn houses of Khoramshahr, published them on the Khoramshahr Number by Number magazine. The plates stand for the place and the photographs on them point to the lost spirit of the city. It can be said that Babak Kazemi is trying to rewrite the city, recreate the place, and detect the sense of belonging which is damaged by the war. He makes the place symbolized by relating it to the everyday life and experiences of the past. In fact, the photographer in these photos, interrupt the conventional meaning of the frame and the time of the photo, offers two times from two places in one frame. The time of living on the plates and everyday experiences of his and other residents of the city, such as Bon Voyage, Fits in time / intermittent proportions.

Fig. 6: Khorramshahr Number by Number magazine - Babak Kazemi

Fig. 7: Khorramshahr Number by Number magazine - Babak Kazemi

During the Lebanese Civil War in 1975, many people were killed and many urban infrastructure and buildings destroyed. Since 1975 until 1990, Beirut was divided by militias and gunmen into two parts: Western and Eastern / Christian and Muslim. This urban war disrupted the outer and inner arenas of places, and turned the city into two distinct outer arenas by the boundary between them which each arena was itself an inner arena which had many intertwined places.
Dimitri Haddad responded to this border, known as the Green Line, and took photographs of East-Beirut-West-Beirut. In the statement of the collection the photographer pointed to the effects of the Green Line in Beirut and the fear of the people on the other side of the line, and said: What was a physical barrier for those who survived the war; became a psychological barrier for those who were born afterwards.
East-Beirut-West-Beirut, a 1.2-kilometer panorama, was photographed on a two-way street separated Christians from Muslims. The Photographs on the both sides of the street are also installed opposite. Extending the viewing angle, breaking the conventional frame and ignoring the photo selection in panorama, movie mode and time / location ratio; the viewer can stop in any part of the street/photo or move in the photo location or compare the two sides of panorama/place together. Not showing the detail of photos can be a sign that the green line and the divisions are worthless for the photographer.

Fig. 8: East-Beirut-West-Beirut - Dimitri Haddad

Fig. 9 & 10: East-Beirut-West-Beirut - Dimitri Haddad

Greta Torresian in Beirut: 99 Real Visions: Real Visions recorded Beirut's urban landscapes after the Lebanese Civil War. The photographs are a demonstration of a war-torn city's association with post-war beautification and rebuilding, and also they are an example of the discontinuity of the time. Photos are synchronized / same-placed because of exhibiting different times in one place. The photographer has received enormous amounts of urban make-up, concealing the pre-war life of the city, and the effect of the capitalist system on the remarkable speed of this reconstruction in documentary action. Therefore, this collection can be considered as a reaction to things that shaped a concept such as a glancing heritage.
The power of human beings both in photographs and in the real world has trifled the place; Beirut once lost its soul through the war and the people who did not get the right fit of places after the war, faced with a great construction project in the city. It can be said that in the destruction and reconstruction system , the relation between human and place is the first thing that is overlooked. Torrosian recorded the city devoid of humans In response to this matter. At the same time, it allows the city to be shown as it is and gain a new meaning in terms of titles through time duration, searching the foretime, paradise, and so on.

Fig. 11: Paradise from the Beirut Collection 99: Real Vision - Greta Torrosian

Fig. 12: Staring at Beirut 99: Real Vision - Greta Torrosian

Wafa Bilal forages the effects of the destruction of private and public spaces in the war in the collection of ashes and exhibits a photograph of this destruction. His goal is to re-privatize these spaces and turn them into lively places to get a closer look at the audience and thus bring them closer to the devastated culture. Photographs are the reconstruction of media images of Iraq's clashes that the photographer has erased the effects of pain and violence to make his photos to be exhibited in the Western media. [7]  Bilal removed the corpses from the photographs of the war-torn places in the media, and made a mini-model of the remaining place photo and took photograph of it.
In fact, the photographer has converted the converse of the places and time sequence elements of the photographers into a paradigmatic axis and from the existing visual elements, has chosen things that are more correspondents with its concept and ultimately deposed them in the syntagmatic axis of the photograph. These photographs are actually converting an unpleasant place into a photo, tearing the photo and turning it into a pleasant place, and took photo of that. The photographer allows the viewer to spend time and enjoy the details, by removing the violence from these photos. On the other hand, since the elimination of violence meant to remove the corpses and the human presence from the photograph, 21 grams of human ashes was combined with other ashes and sprinkled on models to represent this human presence.

Fig. 13: Ashes - Wafa Bilal

Fig. 14: Ashes - Wafa Bilal

It can be said that the place is a phenomenon with environmental features and boundaries which is originated from our lives and experiences and has effects on them. The time of habitant in a place, causes that we comprehend that place in a complication way. The war as a disruptive factor destroys arenas and interferes with the time of habitat. Our comprehension of the place along with other components cause to change, overrides, or highlights one of the essential features of photography; the photographer used these facilities based on this concepts. On the other hand, how these components are applied in semiotic contexts can be considered. Just as importantly, the art-works of Middle Eastern photographers as individuals who had a long life in that place and had dealt with the war and place were also considered. As a result of this consideration, three ratios were identified in the syntagmatic axis: in time/between the space, time/ the same space, and the same time/the same space. As a result of this consideration, three ratios were identified in the syntagmatic axis: in time/between the space, time/ the same space, and the same time/the same space. Generally speaking, it can be said that the art-works of photographers who have a subjective history of space-time with war-focused photography, inevitably have different temporal and spatial complexities due to the temporal nature of the place itself.

- Zahra Bigdeliand and Somayeh Sharifi, (2008), An Introduction to the Concept of Place, Journal of Library and Information Science, Volume 11, Number 4
- Parvin Partoui (2003), The Place and Possibility of a Phenomenological Approach, Journal of Fine Arts, number 14
- Daniel Chandler (2008), Fundamentals of Semiotics. Translated by Mehdi Parsa, Surah Mehr Publications, Third Edition, Tehran
- Ali Akbar Dehkhoda (1994) Dictionary of Dehkhoda, Volume III, University of Tehran Publications, Tehran
- Farzan Sujoudi (2011) Semiotics: Theory and Practice, Science Publishing, Second Edition, Tehran
- Atusa Modiri (2008), Place, Journal of City Identity, Second Year, No. 2, Spring and Summer of the year 2008
- Liz Wells (2014), Theory of Photography. Translated by Majid Akhgar, Samt Publication, First Edition, Tehran

[1] The war-like place in Middle Eastern photographers' photos is the idea of a curiosity project that was presented to several galleries in 98 in collaboration with Hoda Nedaefar. Some of the events that took place in Iran at one time cut off our relationship with most of the photographers in the exhibition and eventually the exhibition was canceled.

[2] Dehkhoda refers to place as being derived from the meaning of being as well as the absolute meaning of space, and being means to being and being, spending time and living, becoming and happening. (Dehkhoda, 1994: 2251)

[3] The base of paying attention to these features has been the distinction between photography and painting. This distinction, as well as the challenges that these definitions have encountered throughout history, are not addressed in this text. See the introduction by John Sarkowski's Photographer's Eye Introduction (Wells, 2014: 155)

[4] Semiotics emphasize that the production of meaning results from two types of signifiers; "converse relationships are possibilities for combining, but substitution relationships involve comparing between elements and making distinctions between them. In-text relates to other signifiers in the text, while substitution to intertextual references refers to those that are absent in the text. " (Chandler, 2008: 127)

[5] The third part, Part 3 Latent Images, contains Farah's seemingly outlandish films that he did not need to appear in wartime and even today. However, he describes each photograph accurately in a small notebook when photographed. So his pictures are readable. He calls this art-work an invisible photograph in the text. The hidden photographs are not directly related to the warlike place.

[6] In embedding photos in the syntagmatic axis, the original photo is intended as the primary location, and in documented photos to suit the content of the photo itself, and in other photos, to suit the work done on the photo, the four components of the syntagmatic -axis are defined.

[7] http://mohsen.gallery/fa/series/ashes-series/