Syrians Unknown


Syria, a country torn apart by a relentless war, five years of disturbing headlines, dreadful imagery, chemical weapons and a refugee crisis not seen since the Second World War: this is what we know of Syria.

Brutal media headlines reducing innocent people seeking peace and security to mere statistics and derogatory adjectives.

Individual stories and histories are removed as the media simplifies, homogenizes and represents people through stereotypes: often the sole source of information for the wider general public. After years of conflict, what does the public know about Syria and its now tormented people?

Turkey is currently hosting around three million Syrian refugees. Whilst the most vulnerable are living in camps, the majority are determined to continue their lives, not only to survive but flourish and follow dreams, overcoming adversity and the constant hurdles that the stigma of simply being Syrian brings

The reality of strong personalities, creative and inspirational people who in many cases prefer not to be labeled refugees, some are heroes and deserve the praise and attention but most are Β ordinary people forced to do extraordinary things to survive, wanting only to be judged on their own merits not as refugees or even Syrians.

War is dramatic and the media needs exciting images but for the most part the people caught in the middle are not exciting or dramatic they are normal people with normal backgrounds.

As a photographer who lived for so long in Syria it has been very hard for me to engage with the media narrative, not wanting to take sides despite my own feelings and not wanting to be part of the misrepresentation of the crisis, painfully aware of how little any contribution I make will effect change, yet as my many Syrian friends struggle and fight to survive I feel an obligation, as futile as it maybe.

The project Syrians Unknown had been in my mind for the last four years and I pitched the idea to several media outlets but without success before finally being accepted as an exhibition at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, the images will also importantly go into the museum archive alongside those of Sir Wilfred Thesiger, arguably one of the greatest travelers of the twentieth century and a personal source of my early inspiration.

I chose to shoot the images at night in black and white, in the shadows and simply strip away distracting context, I want the viewer to look these people in the eye and connect on a human level, I have also included snippets of the long conversations we had over often several meetings and countless cups of tea and coffee.

As a Syrian I am not special. I’m just grateful for the chance to move ahead, to have success in my career and to be close to my family.
I traveled where my Syrian passport could get me, and wherever I go people tell me “a bright future awaits you”
I believe I do

The exhibition will run until the 30th September Details below:

Syrians Unknown at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The exhibition is dedicated to all those Syrians who have shown me kindness, love and friendship, to those who we have lost and to those who will rebuild and flourish.


65 thoughts on “Syrians Unknown

  1. mypaintinghands

    I would love to visit this exhibition. There is so much truth and importance in your words. I wish the people of germany could read this article and realise what it means to be not only a refugee but a human being with an own personality forced to live a certain way to survive. I love your powerfull photographs. Greetings from Germany

  2. Congratulations and thank you! Your artistic eye is sharp, and combining such talent with humanitarianism is beautiful. I am an ashamed American, aching that my country is doing nothing to help. Maybe your art will help change minds.

    1. Thank you Kate
      The people at Pitt Rivers were wonderful and have been making lots of effort to help raise awareness and educate. I wish more institutions with their influence worked as hard.

  3. ‘….. but most are ordinary people forced to do extraordinary things to survive, wanting only to be judged on their own merits, not as refugees or even Syrians.’ what a thing to say!!!

    Beautifully worded John.

    Like your other pieces, this one is heartwarming too and what a fantastic idea!!!

  4. Amazing work and words!!! I wish I can visit the exhibit, I will try to share it with friends in the region. Let me tell you, every little contribution helps, this is coming from a child of refugee parents that remembers and appreciate every single person who helped us along the way to reach where we are right now.

  5. congrats on the exhibition!!!… these are brilliant portraits…wow, love the format and your concept for choosing it – taken at night the photos give such a splendid focus on their faces and character… this is exactly how you give human face to statistics, because you are right, these are living breathing people, not just mere figures… awesome job…

  6. I would love to see this exhibition. I’m grateful you’re bringing Syria to the front of people’s minds. It is s do important we don’t forget Syrians are humans just like the rest of us. War sucks!!!!

  7. Many congratulations and best wishes for your latest exhibition! I’ve always been keen on photojournalism that depicts the positive found in society. We see and read about so much negativity in the world that it is always refreshing to see and learn about everyday people. What you show are people who keep on keeping on despite calamity and power struggles by foolish ego-fueled regimes.

  8. magpantaykath

    This is very true. They’re all just like any of us, people with dreams and aspirations in life. It’s sad that the term refugees is being misunderstood in many countries. I’d really love to visit your exhibit! Keep up the good work!

  9. ”Β wanting only to be judged on their own merits not as refugees or even Syrians.”

    This is the way we should see people of all countries and their people. We in the west get it so wrong sometimes. Thank you for sharing!

  10. I am so happy that I read this post because it really made me realize that there are still good people, like you, that support refugees despite the political issue that everybody blames them for. You are a great man for taking interest in them and bringing their individuality in the spotlight. I hope your exhibition will be a success!

    1. You are very kind to say so, really I play a small part. There are many people though who are working tirelessly to help, a thankless never ending task it seems.
      Thank you so much πŸ™‚

  11. benleander

    It’s a great cause you’re dedicating a photo series too. Also, I think that many Syrians are very good looking (sorry for the accidental stereotype^^)!

  12. Pingback: Death Is Not The End – John Wreford Photographer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s