It is more than ten years ago that I visited Damascus, a short side-trip after a conference in Amman. Recently, I went again through my overflowing hard disk with photographs taken since I could hold a camera (although I still have hundreds of Kodachrome slides and black and white negatives in their original analog formats), and found the stack of images from that four-day visit, most of which have never seen a social network from the inside. One is right above this paragraph.
Instagram, with its terrible rigueur of forcing perfectly framed landscape or portrait photographs into artificial squares (not the natural habitat of most pictures, except perhaps those of the fashion photography élite, who often work in medium format – check out Richard Avedon), was never my medium of choice. However, over time it has become clear that even the very well-established picture-takers have fallen for the overpowering popularity of the service: Magnum and VII Agencies are represented, as are the New Yorker and the New York Times picture blog. From Bruce Gilden to Chris Anderson, Ed Kashi to David Alan Harvey, high-profile photographers have hopped on the bandwagon, and now IG also offers other formats. So no reason anymore for me to limit myself to posting iPhone snaps, pushed hard through various filters to make them more trippy.
More complicated is the uploading of “normal” photos to IG. Since the service is mainly catering to mobile shooters, it doesn’t make it exactly easy to regular-camera-holders to share their work. There is no free plug-in for Lightroom, so the workflow involves a lot of resizing, exporting, copying and re-importing. What one doesn’t do for some social media presence.
To come back to my first paragraph, I decided that I would – after some due warning embedded in a few images posted to IG – post my visual memories of Damascus, a place that represented the wonderfully authentic Middle East at the time, which is now in the process of disappearing into the violent quagmire that is the Iraqi-Syrian civil war. Whatever the underlying political context, I am afraid the Middle East I was able to visit in parts – not enough – since the 1990s, is a thing of the past. You can follow these pictures on Instagram itself but I will also add some of them – without too much text – on these pages over the next days.