"Baghdad Stories"

How Children See War

A few weeks after the end of the war in Iraq, the German journalist Philipp Abresch travelled to Baghdad and gave 170 disposable cameras to Iraqi children and young people. They produced innumerable photos from the crisis-torn region, most of them focusing on the civilian population. Anna Bilger reports


Photo: Ibrahim, 'Baghdad Stories'

​​Wearing crooked grins, they have gathered together in front of a tank, behind barbed wire and beside two American soldiers: Iraqi boys, posing for the ten-year-old photographer Ibrahim from Baghdad.

Saif Ibrahim and 100 other children and young people from the Iraqi capital have become chroniclers of the post-war era. None of them is older then 16. They are documenting their lives after Saddam and with the GIs, producing images of ruins, rubble and destruction.

But they also portray young girls, posing for the camera in their dresses; and boys, playing football on a sandy pitch surrounded by palm trees. These pictures express what all of them most fervently desire: peace and normality.

A different perspective

Philipp Abresch is a 28-year-old journalist from the Berlin borough of Friedrichshain. He organises photo projects with children and young people, mainly in crisis-torn regions of the world, and he aims to capture the war through the eyes of those who are often worst affected by it.

In Iraq, he handed out 170 disposable cameras to Iraqi boys and girls, and to some young American soldiers. "I told them they should photograph the things that mattered to them, the things they wanted others to see", says Abresch. "Photography makes it possible to communicate even when language is a barrier."

He was himself a soldier when he had the idea of providing a different perspective on war. In 1997, as a reservist with the German Federal Armed Forces, Abresch reported from the Balkans for military radio. It was the first time he had seen minefields or bombed-out houses.

These were sights he would never forget. Two years later, he started his first photo project, in Kosovo, with Albanian and Serbian children. The resulting exhibition, "Mit anderen Augen" ("Through others’ eyes") was shown in Kosovo, in Germany, and at the Photography Biennale in Rotterdam in the year 2000.

The idea for his next exhibition came to him on a train: Take a certain day and ask yourself: what’s happening elsewhere?

Together with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Abresch enabled the children of the world to create a snapshot of the world. On April 30th 2002, 500 kids in 43 countries raised their cameras and pressed the button.

The best photos became part of a travelling exhibition that will be shown in more than 30 countries this year alone: "Imagine - your photos will open my eyes".

Small, important stories

Each Iraqi youngster or US soldier who receives a disposable camera is also given a questionnaire. Philipp Abresch hopes that the answers these people provide will help to explain their varying perspectives on the country.

Thus he asks, for example: "Do you think anything can change in Iraq?" An American soldier replies, "Yes – if the Iraqis let us." An Iraqi youth believes in change, too, for the following reasons: "Because Saddam is gone. But we’ll also be happy if the US leaves here soon as well."

The result is a travelling exhibition of photos that reveal a wide range of differing perspectives on everyday life in Baghdad. Abresch’s "Baghdad Stories" is currently in Kassel, and will soon be shown in other German cities and in the Middle East.

Philipp Abresch is pleased that his efforts have borne fruit, and that these small, almost fortuitous and yet important stories from Iraq are now reaching a wider audience. He himself can now happily retreat into the background once more - for the photos speak for themselves.

Anna Bilger

© Fluter.de 2004

Translation from German: Patrick Lanagan

In cooperation with the aid organisation "Architects For People In Need", Philipp Abresch is collecting money for the construction of a school in Baghdad. (APN, Bank für Sozialwirtschaft; Bank Code 70020500; Account No. 8862404; Keyword: Kinder im Irak).

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