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Original author: 
Rania Abouzeid

They are a familiar sight to anyone who has been on the frontlines in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo: striped sheets—formerly store awnings, curtains and drapes—that once blocked the harsh sunlight or a neighbor’s prying eyes, now acting as shields against more lethal threats.

The sheets are strung between buildings (what’s left of them, at least) and across streets. They are meant to obscure a sharpshooter’s line of sight, providing a small measure of protection from an assassin lurking in the shadows of these often abandoned and devastated neighborhoods. For residents, even the simplest task, like going to a bakery or visiting a neighbor, can be a harrowing dash across a street with nothing but a piece of fabric for cover.

The billowing fabric provides unexpected bursts of color in urban landscapes that have otherwise been reduced to a near-ubiquitous gray: the gray of crushed cinder blocks from pulverized buildings, the gray dust that covers household belongings strewn about the rubble, the gray of a once-vibrant city that has been reduced to a stalemated battleground where it can sometimes seem as if the only other color on view is blood crimson.

The sheets also highlight the asymmetrical nature of Syria’s battlefield. The conflict, now in its third year, pits the army of President Bashar al-Assad against a hodgepodge of disorganized defectors, armed civilians and makeshift militias. One side has tanks, helicopter gunships and body armor; on the other side there are anti-aircraft guns and other weapons, often sourced from the black market, and handmade weapons fabricated in local workshops. The sheets are one more tangible testament to the rebels’ ability to improvise.

Photographer Franco Pagetti, who has covered conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other hotspots, captures the beauty of these sheets, and the terror they represent, in this series of haunting images. There are no people in these photos. The curtains serve as a witness to and a barrier between the two sides of this unending civil war. Like so many aspects of the conflict, the curtains are quotidian realities that have been stripped of their mundane origins. Today, they fulfill a purpose very different from their original roles.

Pagetti says the curtains reminded him of the miles upon miles of concrete barriers that crisscrossed Baghdad during the worst of the sectarian violence there, in 2006 and 2007.

“Aleppo’s sheets serve the same purpose: they protect lives,” he says. “But you’re always aware how fragile they are.” As he moves through the neighborhoods, Pagetti says he has to be acutely conscious of the direction of the sun and wind. “If your shadow falls on the sheet, the sniper can see you… Boom, you’re dead. If there’s a gust that blows the sheet up for a moment, you are completely exposed… Boom.”

Franco Pagetti is an Italian conflict photographer represented by VII.

Rania Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @Raniaab.

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Photojournalism_Links

The year 2012 is coming to an end today and I’m sure you have seen plenty of ‘best of ‘ lists already (If you haven’t, you can find a lot of them here), but I couldn’t resist adding one more by sharing my selection of top ten photographs of the year. Trying to make such a tight edit of all the great photojournalism I’ve seen this year was challenging, but I thought ten was a good round number. So here are the top photographs of 2012, as chosen by me, in chronological order.

Lorenzo Meloni’s photograph of two menacing looking militiamen, one in shades and one wearing a balaclava, patrolling the streets of Benghazi in January 2012 stuck in my mind as soon as I saw The Telegraph Magazine run it double truck in May (The tearsheet here). The picture perhaps gains certain extra power also from the fact that we know what went on in Benghazi later on the year.

LorenzoMeloni

Photo © Lorenzo Meloni

Libya. January 2012. – Militiamen patrolling the streets of Benghazi.

Stephanie Sinclair had a great photo essay on Yemen in National Geographic magazine’s September issue (See it here). One of the last photographs of the feature is of a young boy without eyes, cradled by his mother, of whom we don’t  see much more than the very body parts the son is missing. Sinclair’s photo, reminiscent of Samuel Aranda’s World Press Photo of the Year 2011, is powerful in how it shows not only trauma but also love and care.

StephanieSinclair

Photo © Stephanie Sinclair

Yemen. March 2012. – Cradled by his mother, Saleem al Hazari lost both eyes to a sniper. The 12-year-old was shot when he joined antigovernmental protesters in Sanaa in 2011.

I find Dominic Nahr’s Sudan photo of a soldier lying immersed in oil in Heglig, one of the most striking images of the past year, not only visually but contextually, capturing something very essential of the conflict the two Sudans had in the oil-rich region. (See the photograph larger here)

DominicNahr

Photo © Dominic Nahr – Magnum for TIME

Sudan. 17 April 2012. – A soldier of the northern regime’s army, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), lies dead, immersed in oil next to a leaking petroleum facility after heavy fighting with southern SPLA troops after they entered Heglig.

Timothy Fadek had a photo essay on Greece’s economic turmoil on the Foreign Policy website in June (See the series here. NB You might have to create a free login.). The opening picture of drug addicts shooting up in broad daylight shows in strong detail one of the more extreme examples of the human toll the country’s downturn has caused.

TimothyFadek

Photo © Timothy Fadek

Athens, Greece. May 2012. – Scenes from a failing economy. Heroin addicts shoot up behind the Athens Cultural Centeron Akademias Street in central Athens.

Egypt has continued to play a big role in the international news. In June, Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy was announced as the winner of Egypt’s first democratic presidential election. Below frame, by Daniel Berehulak, of Egyptians celebrating Morsy’s election win, is the one picture with its flags and fireworks, that I remember the most. (See it larger here.)

DanielBerehulak

Photo © Daniel Berehulak – Getty Images

Cairo, Egypt. 24 June 2012.- Egyptians celebrate the election of their new president Mohamed Morsy in Tahrir Square.

Pete Souza has been doing incredible work documenting President Obama’s first term, and it’s difficult to choose his best photo from this past year, but I thought the below picture of Obama sitting in a White House cabinet meeting is an extraordinarily quirky portrayal of the President, taken from an unusual view-point. It shows little more than the chair with a badge identifying who it belongs to, and the President”s back of the head . But I’m sure the head (and the ears!) would be recognisable even without the badge on the chair, but the metal tag does give an air of authority. Amusingly, The Obama campaign tweeted the photo after Clint Eastwood’s infamous empty chair speech at the RNC, with the words ‘This seat’s taken’. I also like how the roundness of the President’s head matches the curves on the wall on the other side of the room.

PeteSouza

Photo © Pete Souza / The White House

Washington D.C., United States. 26 July 2012. – A view from behind of the President as he holds a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House.

Nicole Tung did several trips to Syria in 2012 to document the civil war there. Time Lightbox showcased her work on number of occasions. The opening picture of her Aleppo photo essay ‘A Syrian Tragedy: One Family’s Horror’ shows a horrific scene of a group of men carrying a 15-year-old boy, Hatem, who had been trapped under a rubble following an airstrike on 6 August. Hatem later died in the hospital. His father, mother, younger brother and sister and two younger cousins were also killed in the same attack.

I and Olivier Laurent interviewed Nicole Tung about her work later the same month. You can read the interview here.

NicoleTung

Photo © Nicole Tung

Aleppo, Syria. 6 August 2012. – Men carry Hatem Qureya, 15, after he was trapped under rubble following an airstrike in the neighborhood of Bustan al-Qasr in Aleppo, Syria.

Moises Saman has been doing terrific work in Cairo throughout the year. Above, I shared Daniel Berehulak’s picture of Egyptians celebrating their new president. Saman’s photo below shows a very different kind of flag-waving scene, this from the anti-Muslim YouTube video sparked riots directed at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt’s capital. Antonin Kratochvil once said ‘every photographer should have their own version of The Scream’, referring to the similarity of one of his own pictures to the famous Munch painting. If that’s true, I believe Moises Saman now has his. I can see and feel, real raw energy in the young man’s scream below. (See the picture larger here.)

MoisesSaman

Photo © Moises Saman – Magnum

Cairo, Egypt. September 2012. – Protestors shout and raise a flag above a burned-out car near the clashes.

I’ve seen two versions of the below scene. One by Narciso Contreras, whose coverage of the Syrian civil war has probably been the strongest and most comprehensive of any photographer out there, and the one seen here by Javier Manzano. Both are striking photographs, but I just happen to prefer the Manzano one, perhaps as the rays of light are slightly more pronounced in his photo due to the darker exposure.

JavierManzano

Photo © Javier Manzano / AFP

Aleppo, Syria. 18 October 2012. – Two Syrian rebels take sniper positions at the heavily contested neighborhood of Karmal Jabl in central Aleppo.

Out of all the photographs done done during hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, there’s no question in my mind that Iwan Baan’s aerial photograph of the Manhattan powercut, which ran on the cover of the New York Magazine, was the most remarkable and memorable. You can read about the shoot here.

IwanBaan

Photo © Iwan Baan

New York City, United States. 1 November 2012. – Superstorm Sandy aerial shot of Manhattan powercut.

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Narciso Contreras / AP

Night falls on a Syrian rebel-controlled area as destroyed buildings, including Dar Al-Shifa hospital, are seen on Sa'ar street after airstrikes targeted the area last week, killing dozens in Aleppo, Syria.

Narciso Contreras / AP

Men warm themselves by a fire in a Syrian rebel controlled area in where residents are trying to get back to their daily lives after months of heavy fighting in Aleppo, Syria.

Narciso Contreras / AP

On Sa'ar street in Aleppo, an apartment is illuminated by fire used to keep warm.

More photos from Syria on PhotoBlog

Slideshow: Syria uprising

Story: Airport road reopens but Internet still cut

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by Sophia Jones

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 21.

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    A Free Syrian Army fighter in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria, Aug. 21.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter dodges sniper fire in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    A Free Syrian Army fighter dodges sniper fire in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Free Syrian Army fighters exchange fire with regime forces in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    Free Syrian Army fighters exchange fire with regime forces in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Free Syrian Army fighters take cover from a Syrian attack helicopter in the Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.

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    Free Syrian Army fighters take cover from a Syrian attack helicopter in the Sakhour neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • A Syrian civilian shows marks of torture after his release from regime forces in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.

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    A Syrian civilian shows marks of torture after his release from regime forces in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Free Syrian Army fighters take position in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    Free Syrian Army fighters take position in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

    Previous Next

    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Free Syrian Army fighters exchange fire with regime forces in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

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    Free Syrian Army fighters exchange fire with regime forces in the Salah Al Din neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 22.

    Previous Next

    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Young Syrians run for cover as a Free Syrian Army fighter returns sniper fire in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 21.

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    Young Syrians run for cover as a Free Syrian Army fighter returns sniper fire in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 21.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • Free Syrian Army fighters take cover from helicopter fire in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 21.

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    Free Syrian Army fighters take cover from helicopter fire in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 21.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

  • A Free Syrian Army fighter climbs through a damaged wall during fighting in the Saif Dawla neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 24.

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    A Free Syrian Army fighter climbs through a damaged wall during fighting in the Saif Dawla neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 24.

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    Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

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When the Arab Spring broke out two years ago, photojournalist James Lawler Duggan grabbed his camera. As waves of protests pulsed through the Middle East, Duggan, on a leave of absence from the Corcoran School of Art, followed conflict through Bahrain, Libya, Egypt and finally into Syria.

This past August, he crossed the Turkish border and made his way to Aleppo to capture images of Free Syrian Army rebel fighters. Working for Agence-France Press, his photos were distributed all over the world.

As helicopters fired rockets and regime tanks rolled through abandoned neighborhoods, Duggan, 25, set out to document what he says gives meaning to his own life: the human extreme.

Photojournalist James Lawler Duggan.
Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

Photojournalist James Lawler Duggan.

His work represents a delicate balance between accessing risk, taking meaningful photos and dealing with the aftershock of seeing such extreme violence.

"Photographing something graphic spares you the trauma of it," he explains. "The focus on capturing the frame affords you a callus. But it catches up to you later."

Unarmed, Duggan put faith in the Free Syrian Army fighters who were guiding him — while also trying not to become too emotionally attached to them, a survival technique in its own rite.

"I never broke down crying in Syria," he says, looking down at a photograph of a man with crimson torture scars on his back. "But I have since I came home."

The photo, taken in a Free Syrian Army safe house, shows a man who had just been tortured by Assad regime forces. It is perhaps Duggan's most widely published photo.

A Syrian civilian shows marks of torture after his release from regime forces in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.
Courtesy of James Lawler Duggan

A Syrian civilian shows marks of torture after his release from regime forces in the Bustan Pasha neighborhood of Aleppo, Aug. 23.

Minutes before the photo was taken, Duggan explains, two civilian men walked into the room, one looking clearly roughed up. The other man at first seemed unharmed, but when he took off his shirt, Duggan clicked his camera. "At the moment, it wasn't clear the power the photo would have," he says.

In a way, the shot could symbolize how the war is everywhere in Syria — even if it seems hidden.

Photographers in war zones often have to be in the line of fire in order to capture it. While Duggan says he doesn't take unnecessary risks, he acknowledges the incredible dangers of "bang-bang photography," referring to a group of photographers who documented apartheid and violence in South Africa in the early '90s. Looking back, he says he can think of numerous occasions where he jumped headfirst into a potentially deadly situation.

"It's fashionable for conflict photographers to tell each other to be safe and not to take unnecessary risks, but at the end of the day, we're all trying to get closer and push the envelope. I spent two of my nine lives in Syria," he admits.

This month, he (along with this blogger) will be participating in RISC — Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues — a course that gives freelance journalists medical training for life-threatening situations. The program was set up by Sebastian Junger, a friend of photographer Tim Hetherington, who was killed during the conflict in Libya.

"I'm honored to get this opportunity," Duggan says — adding that all freelancers should prepare for the realities of combat.

He says he constantly thinks about the impact of his career on friends and family. "I wear a flak jacket for my mother, not my editor or anyone else. My mother."

You can see more of James Lawler Duggan's work on his website.

Sophia Jones is an intern with NPR News.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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In today’s pictures, a woman paddles back to shore in Costa Rica, Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer statue is illuminated, relatives mourn victims of a ferry crash in Hong Kong, and more.

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It was a typical day at one of the hospitals here in Aleppo, a typical three hours, to be even more specific. Children seemed to be everywhere, on hospital beds, in the hospital lobby and waiting with listless faces outside the clinic. Blood seemed to seep through every piece of clothing they had. Some, as young as three, composed themselves as needles pierced their skin to stitch up deep wounds.

Mohamed, 13, tried hard not to cry as he lay on a hospital bed, wincing in pain from the injury he’d sustained after a shell landed near the breadline where he had waited for hours. No one knew he’d been hurt yet and his cousin arrived only thirty minutes later to transfer him to another hospital.

More civilians flooded in, and those who were conscious had a resigned look of acceptance—this was just what happened now these days.

A teenage son, his face smeared in red, collapsed in tears over his father’s body laying on the gurney. He was hit in the head by a bullet, caught in the crossfire as their car made their way through the confusing myriad of streets, unaware of where the snipers or perhaps even the army was. He didn’t seem to register the reality and stared at his father’s bloodied body in disbelief. The doctors bound his father’s hands together and covered him in a blue sheet. They carried his body into the back seat of the car, his feet sticking oddly out of the right window. The boys in the back couldn’t hold it in any longer—as the car pulled away, they wailed.

A man’s body, uncollected by his relatives, lay on a bed in an alley behind the hospital. Another man came rushing in, his eyes wide with fear. In his arms was a bleeding young girl. The hospital staff were all busy attending other civilians and fighters. “What do I do?” he screamed. He was panting, panicking. Someone told him to go to another field hospital. Back in the surgery room, almost easy enough to miss, was an 8-year-old girl who had apparently died in an airstrike. Her body was being wrapped in a shroud and a doctor picked her up to bring her to a waiting taxi.

And minutes later, 15-year-old Fareed was rushed into the hospital. His eyes were wide open as he took deep, labored breaths—his last few before turning motionless. The doctors rushed him to surgery, attempting to resuscitate him. His mother appeared in the lobby, screaming, hyperventilating, crying and grasping at her face in disbelief.

Fareed couldn’t be saved. The little piece of shrapnel had entered his back and passed through his heart—there was nothing the doctors could do here. The hospital had so many needs—for staff, surgeons in particular, and crucial medical equipment like oxygen tanks. It is simultaneously a little house of horrors, and a little house of miracles, where death hangs heavy in the air but every saved life brings a renewed sense of purpose for the doctors.

“I feel a lot of pain inside. A lot of pain, when I see women and children injured. But I have to control myself because I have to help them,” says 28-year-old Abu Ismail, an anesthetist from Aleppo. Abu Ismail wears a black headband with white writing: There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed is his prophet. “This headband gives me strength. I don’t save the lives—Allah does,” he says calmly as the horns of cars rushing to the hospital echo downstairs. Abu Ismail doesn’t flinch—his eyes remain excited and he is always smiling, even though he slept less than two hours the night before.

These are the everyday scenes in one hospital of one neighborhood in Aleppo. A microcosm of what the war looks like for the civilians of Syria, where every day the horror multiplies for even the youngest sufferers in this war. They are often the ones who cry the least as they are treated by doctors, while just a few beds over, grown men, fighters of the Free Syrian Army, scream out in pain. Daily shelling and attacks by helicopters and fighter jets seem to not break the civilian spirit. They remain resilient—they remain because they have no other place to go. Or simply, because they would rather die at home.

Nicole Tung is a freelance photographer who previously documented the uprisings in Libya and Egypt. Tung has previously filed dispatches from Syria recounting the aftermath of an airstrike in Aleppo and civilian funerals in Idlib

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