Baraa al Halabi, a 23-year-old Syrian, says he was clueless about photography only four years ago.
Today, he is one of the winners of an international photojournalism contest for a haunting photo of a bombing in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
“I am a son of the Syrian revolution, it has made me a photographer,” said Halabi, who was in Paris to receive the prize, awarded by the Fujaïrah Culture and Media Authority and supported by FRANCE24 and RFI.
It was on June 3, 2014, when Halabi took the prize winning photo – the day of presidential elections in Syria.
Halabi was in the Aleppo neighbourhood of Soukkari when he saw an explosion at the local mosque.
“I couldn’t see anything at first as there was so much smoke and dust,” he told FRANCE 24.
“The smoke began to clear and people rushed to help the wounded. Then I saw this young man emerging from the smoke with his sister in his arms, calling for help. I really wanted to capture the expression on his face as he was holding his little sister, who was almost certainly dead.”
THE PHOTO THAT WON THE PRIZE
From student to photographer
Halabi, a pseudonym to protect his identity, hadn’t planned on becoming a war photographer. He was studying computer science at the University of Aleppo when the uprising began, and he quickly decided to chronicle what was happening in his country.
Using his savings, he bought a small camcorder in early 2013 and his first camera a year later, a Canon 1100.
It was with the Canon 1100 that he captured the award winning photo.
Halabi’s decision to photograph and document the civil war in his country is incredibly dangerous. On June 22, 2011, Halabi was one of over 300 students arrested by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime at the University of Aleppo for participating in demonstrations.
Halabi was jailed for a month for “sabotage and insulting the president.”
“When I got out of prison, I went straight to Aleppo’s rebel-held neighbourhoods and I haven’t left since,” said Halabi.
Halabi is entirely self taught. He sought out foreign photo journalists in Syria for training, but ultimately turned to the only tool at his disposal: YouTube.
He not only taught himself about photography, he also studied the photographs in publications like The New York Times and The Independent.
“I spent a lot of time observing the composition of the picture and what the photographer wanted to show,” he said.
Halabi’s work drew the attention of the AFP press agency who started to buy his photographs and also encouraged him to participate in this contest.
Now in Paris for the prize, Halabi said, he’s keen to return to Syria, a country that refugees are desperately fleeing. He wants to continue to live in Syria to be with his family, but moreover, he said that if everyone leaves, only the Islamic State group and the regime would remain.
“I want to return to Syria to continue the revolution,” he said.