Images of war are too often shaped by meddlesome commanders dictating what can be photographed and what cannot. Some of their concerns are legitimate: pictures showing military installations near road signs or other landmarks, for instance, might assist an enemy in targeting an attack. But on the shifting battlefields of Syria and Iraq, where disparate groups fighting ISIS(and sometimes one another) compete for territory and recruits, as well as for funding, weapons, and sympathy from abroad, officers routinely seek to prevent honest portrayals of their units, preferring to project only virtue, valiance, and political objectives that are in tune with those of their benefactors. For photographers working in such areas, defying these commanders’ whims carries the threat of deportation or detention, accusations of espionage, or worse. Their subjects are their only shield against Islamic State soldiers and spies.
On a recent visit to northeastern Syria, the American photographer Andrea DiCenzo found her access diminishing, practically with each click of the shutter. She had embedded with Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units, known in Syria as the Y.P.G. As with many militant groups in the region, the Y.P.G. exalts its martyrs; soldiers who die in battle are immortalized in airbrushed portraits on posters and flags. But DiCenzo chose to focus, instead, on the wounded. “Death can easily lend itself to romanticization,” she told me. There is no glory in injury, however, only vulnerability and pain.
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Image courtesy of ANDREA DICENZO via the New Yorker