Jan 30, 2013

Behind the Lens: A Week in Sha’ar, Aleppo

Karen Leigh – January 30, 2013

In our effort to showcase unseen images of the Syrian crisis, we’ve featured the work of photojournalist Nicole Tung. Tung is a 26-year-old American whose photos from Syria have been published in TIME magazine, The New York Times, and other global news outlets. The Hong Kong native is a graduate of New York University and has traveled in and out of Syria since the early months of the war. Here, she photographs patients in and around the hard-hit Aleppo suburb of Sha’ar, including the Sunni stronghold’s since-destroyed Dar al-Shifa Hospital.

News Deeply: When did you come to Syria and to the hospital?

Nicole Tung: I started covering Syria in May and June of last year. In August, when I was at the hospital, it was one of the only functioning hospitals in the opposition area. They were using the ground floor in the basement because it had been hit almost a dozen times by that point. They were still using it despite the risk of being fully flattened, which it was back in November.

ND: How did you know that this hospital was the place to be?

NT: I knew it existed because the activists talked about it; everyone who got injured, whether they were Free Syrian Army or civilian, was treated here. A lot of the doctors had fled but those spaces were filled by volunteer doctors, either from the countryside or doctors from Aleppo who were very pro-revolution.

ND: Did the workers there view you with suspicion, as they do so many journalists?

NT: At first they were very skeptical of having me around. Many of the doctors and nurses were still working for a living in government-controlled areas and they viewed the cameras with suspicion. They didn’t want us to expose that they were helping and treating the opposition. But a lot of them were very warm, very open, very hospitable people.

Aleppo was getting hit very hard at that time. They performed miracles — they saved life after life. I spent a week at the hospital documenting, traveling with another journalist, a videographer. Sometimes we’d stay very late.

ND: Are there images that stay with you?

NT: There is one of an eight-year-old girl. She was killed in an airstrike about an hour before my photo was taken. She was probably killed by the weight of falling concrete on her body. The airstrike killed four others who were children, along with her mother and father. It was a really heartbreaking, difficult scene to witness, because they had lost so many family members. One was a baby boy.

ND: At what point did you decide to spend less time on the front lines and devote a week to the hospital?

NT: I started to focus a lot more on civilian stories, so spending more time in the hospital made sense. Being with the FSA on the front lines became extremely dangerous and, to a degree, boring, because the battle had become a stalemate. I was getting frustrated because the images were nothing new. The civilian situation was interesting, and it’s what matters more.

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