No people, no explosions. Just heavy, damped-down, grounded-down city streets. Franco Pagetti‘s images of strategically positioned sheets in the Syrian city of Aleppo is powerful work.
From the VII Photo website:
Sheets line the devastated streets of Aleppo, Syria, acting as shields to obscure Free Syrian Army soldiers from the view of Bashar al-Assad’s security force snipers. Before the war, these sheets served a very different purpose as residents used them for privacy or to protect their homes from harsh weather. “Aleppo’s sheets serve the same purpose: they protect lives,” says Franco Pagetti. “But you’re always aware how fragile they are.”
It would be trite to say that the images look like stage sets and the sheets like backdrops; it evades the seriousness of the sheets’ necessity. It would be more appropriate to liken the sheets to those laid over the face of a body following death; huge covering-veils marking the death of a neighbourhood and its people.
Ultimately though, it is a cruel loop of irony inherent to these images that has me crushed.
Both photography (generally) and Aleppo’s sheets (specifically) are about vision and its manipulation. It is not necessary for these sheets to physically repel a bullet, they just need to negate the ability of a gunman to fire one.
And, even though it is fashionable these days to completely disown the notion that photography has agency to change attitudes, let alone directly change events (it would be insulting beyond measure to suggest photography could stop a war), we clamored for images of the conflict in Syria as it took hold in 2011 and 2012.
For many months, Syria’s war was top of the news-cycle; a surprisingly long time for our current attention spans. I think part of the persistent — almost nagging — interest was the fact that we were involved in debates about the veracity of citizens’ and fighters’ mobile footage. We wanted to know accurately of the events but we were also affronted by the fact “our” named journalists and outlets couldn’t or wouldn’t get into Syria.
Photographers such as Thomas Munita, Rodrigo Abd, Goran Tomasevic, Robert King, Jonathan Alpeyrie eventually got in and showed us the horrifying violence from both sides. Remi Ochlik died while he made photos in Homs in February 2012.
Today, nearly two-and-a-half years on from the start of the unrest, Pagetti’s work is a less frantic look at Aleppo; a look at the battered foundations of a city; at the persistent sadness of conflict; at the pathetic shreds that remain. It’s a requiem.
The sheets are death-masks and the fact they hang so poignantly and that Pagetti’s photographs are so poetic has me doubly crushed.