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Children’s eyes revealing the story of Syria’s civil war: accompanied by Louay Yassin, the press spokesman for SOS Kinderdörfer, the photographer Daniel Etter visited some of SOS Kinderdörfer’s facilities on the outskirts of Damascus, where traumatised children and orphans have found a new home. LFI spoke with Yassin about the search for the right photographer, and about portraits that show another side of the war. From September 29 to October 8, 2017, LFI in Hamburg is presenting the exhibition Calm after catastrophe. Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Etter portrays children in Syria.

How did you connect with Daniel Etter?

We were looking for a photographer who wouldn’t only photograph Syrian children, but someone who would be able to approach them with respect and make sure they retained their dignity. One of my colleagues knew Daniel Etter from the past. According to him, Daniel not only takes outstanding pictures, but he also gets close to people without embarrassing them, and has even won the Pulitzer Prize for some of his photos. We looked at Daniels’s pictures and were delighted.

What do the pictures aim to convey?

Those of us who have been in Syria are unable to forget the faces of the traumatised childre being looked after at the SOS facilities. Daniels’s pictures aim to reveal how fragile the children’s souls are. At the same time they should capture the children’s inner strength and energy, that is leading them back to a normal life. It’s not an easy undertaking, but we find that Daniel pulled it off exceptionally well.

Are pictures necessary to understand the situation there?

Yes, pictures are necessary to understand the situation. In fact, one should travel there to experience the terrible things going on. Here at home we’re no longer used to seeing these kind of things, which is lucky for us, but makes it’s hard to get a real idea about it. That was how it was for me as well. Until I went to Damascus myself, I couldn’t really imagine what it was like; above all, the havoc that war wreaks on people – even though I’d been informed about Syria for years. It’s different if you see the usual war images on the news, or if you see Daniels’s photos. First of all, here we’ve become so used to the news that we hardly even look properly anymore. Daniel’s portraits, however, show another side of war: fragile and broken children, where you can see that they have experienced terrible things, without having to actually tell their story. One look into the eyes of the children of Damascus told me more than all the news reports on the Syrian war.

Photos: SOS Kinderdörfer around the world/Daniel Etter

More photos and an interview with Daniel Etter can be found in LFI 7/2017.

Daniel Etter

Daniel Etter is an author, photographer and film maker. After studying Politics and Journalism, he received a grant from the Kathryn Davis Fellowship for Peace in 2013. His pictures have been honoured by the Alexia Foundation and the Picture of the Year International competition. In 2016, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his pictures of Iraqi refugees. As a print journalist, he has received the Axel Springer Prize among others.

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