The Photographic Initiative Recapturing the Face of Syria

Syrian Eyes of the World is a photographic initiative created to remind the world of Syria’s beauty and humanity in the face of its tragic present. The organisation aims to “to give a voice with no discrimination to the diverse community that forms this diverse nation.” Syrian Eyes of the World has just seen the end of its latest fundraising campaign to hold future workshops in refugee camps. To talk about the origins, aims and hopes of this artistic group, I spoke with its founder, the photographer Youssef Shoufan.

What was your inspiration behind starting Syrian Eyes of the World and why did you feel it was necessary?

My interest in photography started during my studies in journalism, where I fell in love with the works of Steve McCurry and Oliviero Toscani. More recently, initiatives like JR’s Inside Out Project and Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York really inspired me. Wanting to give a hand to the Syrian community, I created this photographic project with colleagues around the world.

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What do you hope that your audience and those you interact with will gain from this project?

Another perspective on Syria, especially on Syrians and hopefully a positive, beautiful and welcoming one.

Who is the most inspiring individual you have photographed?

Because I love calligraphy, I was really happy to get in touch with Nahed Koussa‘s vision. I was also impressed by his free spirit – I think I’m going to be like him when I get older!

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How has the project helped you?

Living almost all my life in Montréal, I had prejudices against the Arab world, and this project really helped me reconcile with my origins and meet extraordinary people who have the same aspirations as me. (Oh yeah, it also improved my Arabic speaking and reading skills a lot!)

You also organize photography workshops with Syrian refugees – your first one “Breathing Under Water” was in Shatila, Lebanon. Can you tell me why you feel art and photography are key to helping Syrians in the Shatila camp? 

Antoine Entabi gave our first workshop and the response was great. Our main focus is the participant, and the intellectual tools we provide are very important for us since they can be used for a long time after the workshop. If we can reach a greater audience through the web and exhibitions, we are even happier to see these voices heard and the bridges created between audiences. For these reasons, we really think our approach can help Syrian refugees in the short and long term.

Where do you see Syrian Eyes of the World going in the future?

Now that we have a solid base, we will expand geographically and have more photographers participating in the project. For the moment, we are able to do many things with no money at all, which we are proud of because we are completely independent, but if we have financial support, we will be able to provide more workshops, to have more exhibitions, to create video portraits and to print books.

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Thank you for chatting to Thaqafa Magazine, Youssef. We all wish you the very best of luck in all your future endeavours.

Syrian Eyes of the World is a positive and wildly beneficial initiative born from the love of Syria and Syrians which provides the perfect artistic outlet for expression and healing. If you wish to support Youssef and his talented team, visit Syrian Eyes of the World on Facebook, twitter and their website.

Cover image of Zena Al Abdulla, by Madonna Adib

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