Documentary, Photojournalism

Moises Saman on Iraq’s civil war

All images © Moises Saman, courtesy Magnum Photos

In February, new Magnum photographer Moises Saman returned to Iraq to continue documenting the effects of the country's ongoing civil war. On assignment for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), he visited displaced Iraqi families in Tikrit, Baghdad, and Anbar Province where relief organizations are challenged by increasing demands for aid and support with improving sanitary conditions.

Moises Saman is one of the leading conflict photographers of his generation. In recent years, he has worked in Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya.

But the Spanish photographer is best known for his ongoing ability to photograph the war in Iraq, first the American war with Saddam Hussein, and then their occupation of the country, and then the ongoing civil war that still besets Iraq.

In 2016, 13 years after the invasion, Iraq is no closer to being a settled, secure nation.  Following the “surge” of American combat troops in 2007, a fragile ceasefire seemed to descend over the majority of the country, a peace which sustained until the last soldiers departed in December, 2011. But, when the Americans left, they also left behind unresolved problems that, after a period of relative calm, have reared again. Now he has returned to Iraq, on commission for The Red Cross, to show displaced families unable to access the most basic sanitary needs, due to their failed state and total lack of local governance.

Photographing on commission for The New Yorker (for whom he has also covered the Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war) earlier this year, Saman said he found, in the Iraqi people, “a mood of pessimistic perseverance.”

Saman has also spent more and more time in Iraq’s neighbour, Syria, where more and more of the conflict has centred. Early in the Syrian conflict, he documented protests against the regime in the cities of Hama and Homs. Then, in 2012, Saman was in Aleppo shortly after the Free Syrian Army had taken control.

On commission for WIRED magazine, Saman photographed in Aleppo, his third visit to Syria since Arab Spring was crushed in March 2011. They accompanied Matthieu Aikins’ article about bomb-makers in the rebel homemade arms industry.

In an interview with the same magazine, Saman was asked why he feels the need to keep returning to conflict zones.

“I did not set out to become a ‘combat photographer’ when I started my career,” Saman said. “I suppose my work was influenced by the events of my generation, namely the 9/11 attacks and the global repercussions in its aftermath.

“Personally, as I grow older, I find it more and more difficult to continue to return to these places of conflict, because continuously working in war zones is in some ways a selfish choice — one that is hardest to bear for the people that care about you. That said, I still find some motivation out of a sense of commitment to my work, hoping that the photos will be a factor in the ongoing dialogue about the realities of conflict.”

 Find out more about Moises Saman here. And see more of his Red Cross pictures here.