Foreign photographs of Baghdad usually have three subjects: guns, bombs, and pickup trucks. Marieke van der Velden shows us what happens when the camera turns a few degrees away.
The media about Iraq focuses exclusively on men with rifles in pickup trucks and bomb blasts. But when you turn the camera just a few degrees away from these images, you can see that life goes on despite the violence and the presence of foreign troops.
Baghdadis have a startling vitality, as we noticed when we went to the theater and the audience wouldn’t stop cheering and clapping—although the show had yet to begin. Despite the sectarian violence of recent years, people wanted us to photograph them. “Show people in the West the other side,” they would say. “Show them Baghdad is more than the daily violence”.
Because we only see attacks and militia, it is difficult for us to identify with the ordinary citizens from Baghdad. Yet daily life must go on. “We have wasted too much time in our lives, we want to live again.” Or in the words of Khduer, the fat boy with just one hand: “As long as you don’t give up, there is life.” The pictures show a much neglected side of Baghdad—they show a remarkable, inspiring resilience.
Text by Paulien Bakker, who has covered Iraq as an independent journalist since 2008. Her book A Romantic People about the oil rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk, was published in 2010.
For more on this project, visit Daily Life in Baghdad.
“Photography started for me at fifteen when my uncle gave me his old darkroom equipment,” recalls Marieke van der Velden. At twenty, she began her career as an on-the-run news photographer, covering local events for newspapers. She drove in 2002 to Sarajevo to cover a personal documentary story on daily life. Ever since more international personal photo series have followed. In 2007 she was one of the twelve participants of World Press Photo’s annual Joop Swart Masterclass. Her photos have appeared in magazines and trade journals, ads and government publications, nationally and internationally. Organizations such as UNICEF, CARE International and AMREF Flying Doctors have sent her abroad some 25 times to photograph their projects and campaigns.