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Remi Ochlik

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Syria has always been a tough place to cover for journalists. Confidently authoritarian with a ruthlessly formidable security and intelligence apparatus, Syria has long been one of the most policed of Arab police states. So when some Syrians defied their government to take to the streets in the southern city of Dara‘a in March 2011, the temptation to cover the story was overwhelming for many, including myself.

The story of the Syrian uprising is ultimately the tale of regular citizens silencing the policeman in their heads, breaking their own personal barriers of fear to speak, to demonstrate, to demand, to reject, to no longer be afraid, to live in dignity. It’s about what these people will do, what they will endure, and what they are prepared to become to achieve their aims.

It is also the story of a significant portion of the population that considers the regime of President Bashar Assad the country’s best option, because they believe in its Baathist secular ideology or directly benefit from its patronage or don’t have confidence in Assad’s opponents and fear what may come next. Understanding what this segment of the population will accept in terms of state violence, the narratives they choose to believe and their concerns is a critical component of the story, though one that is harder to obtain, given the paucity of press visas issued by Damascus.

The only way to tell the Syrian story, really tell it, is to be on the ground with the men, women and children who are central to it, whether in Syria on in the neighboring states that many Syrians have fled to. It isn’t easy to do — the Committee to Protect Journalists, based in New York City, has dubbed Syria the “most dangerous place for journalists in the world” — but it is essential. Nothing beats being there. There is no compensating for seeing, feeling, touching, capturing, living the story.

The images here are a testament to the power of being on the ground, of sharing and capturing a moment for posterity, of translating an element of a person’s life through imagery.

Take a look at the photos. Can you place yourself in these situations? Can you imagine what it must be like? What do you feel when you look at the images? Are you drawn into them, or are you repulsed? Can you relate to them, or are they too alien? This is the power of translating on-the-ground reporting to an audience. This is why we must and will continue to document the Syrian uprising from inside the country when we can, and we — members of the foreign press corps — are not alone. Sadly, as is often the case, local journalists (both professional and citizen) have disproportionately borne the brunt of the casualties in this crisis. Still, this story is not about members of the media and what we go through to tell it; it’s about the Syrians who entrust their testimonies, their experiences, their hopes, their fears, their images to us in the hope that they will help explain what is happening in one of the most pivotal states in the Middle East.

—Rania Abouzeid

This collection of testimonies is the third in a series by TIME documenting iconic images of conflict. See “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” and “Afghanistan: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” for more.

Abouzeid is a Middle East correspondent for TIME. Reporting by Vaughn Wallace.

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“War is worse than drugs. One moment it’s a bad trip, a nightmare. But the next moment, as soon as the immediate danger has passed, there is an overpowering desire to go back for more. To risk one’s life in order to get more pictures in return for not very much. It is an incomprehensible force that pushes us to keep going back in.”

-Rémi Ochlik, 2004

This spring, after French war photographer Rémi Ochlik was killed during fighting in Homs, Syria, a group of close friends and colleagues felt their obligations to the photographer weren’t complete. Meeting aboard a TGV train on their way to Paris from the World Press awards ceremony in Amsterdam in late April, the group took stock of everything that had happened since Rémi’s death. His photographs had spoken for themselves when exhibited in tribute in Amsterdam. The large circle of friends gathered in his name was a testament to his character; he was always the guy who would make friends sharing a cigarette. But one duty remained unfinished—not a tribute, nor a memorial, but a commitment to continue what was and what should have been in Rémi’s life.

Now, five months later, Revolutions is finisheda book of 144 pages, across which Rémi’s photographs of the Arab Spring spread forth. The tome depicts hope, anger, celebration and fear—some of humanity’s most powerful emotions recorded in photographs—and feelings the photographer undoubtedly felt during a career cut short by the harsh realities often facing those documenting armed conflict.

Scattered through this visual record of Rémi’s witness are the words of friends, which encompass close confidants, long-time coworkers and fellow photographers. Their testimonies are short, speaking to the memories of a man killed at a time and place in the world many photographers hesitated to cover.

Ochlik began his photography of the Arab Spring in Tunisia—and so the book does the same. “It is impressive to see the ease with which he moves through the street as the rocks fly everywhere,” writes Julien De Rosa of his shared time with Rémi outside Tahrir Square in Cairo. “This is clearly his natural environment.”

Rémi, considered by colleagues an old-school photographer despite his young age (29), moved with confidence and resolve through the borders of conflict in the Middle East. This is what makes his death that much more painful, for at his age and with his skill, his potential had seemed limitless.

“Be safe, okay?” were the last words that Gert Van Langendonck told Rémi before his final trip to the besieged city of Homs. “You’ve already won your World Press Photo.” And indeed Rémi’s work was deserving of high honor—his story from Libya earned him first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo competition’s General News category. His photographic eye was strong—strengthening, even—as he entered Syria. A vision deserving of high honor, cut short by a barrage of shelling that also killed American correspondent Marie Colvin.

Rémi was often aware that he didn’t have a personal project in the works, Van Langendonck told TIME. Personal projects provide an outlet for photographers to explore their interests outside of commissioned editorial work, allowing for an inner-consistency even as a photographer’s surroundings are rapidly changing. So caught up in his work, Remi didn’t need it — “I’ve never had so many of my pictures published in my life,” he told Van Langendonck.

After paying the ultimate price for his work, Rémi’s personal project became clear. Although the future promise of the French photographer will never be fully realized, the publishing of Revolutions has brought a modicum of closure.

Revolutions is now available through Emphas.is. The book project, funded by contributors, raised $24,250 as of Sept. 4, exceeding its original fundraising target of $15,000 by almost 40%.

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When we arrived in Bab Amr, we began to send e-mails to editors saying we were there. We were excited, happy. Of course, we were scared of the situation, but we were happy.

On the first morning, shelling began very close to us. One boom, then a second. After the third, the Syrians with us shouted, “You have to get out!” Then a fourth rocket hit. We lost Marie Colvin, the American reporter, and my friend Rémi Ochlik, a photographer. The correspondent for Le Figaro, Edith Bouvier, was badly injured, as was Paul Conroy, a British photojournalist.

William Daniels—Panos for TIME

This week's cover of TIME.

The Syrian army targeted Bab Amr everywhere, anywhere. There was no way to get out. One night we visited families staying underground. There were 150 people in a basement with only small lights. They had some rice and a bit of water. Everyone had a family member who had been killed. We felt very bad, thinking, Please help us get out of here; we have lost our friends. But we couldn’t say that, because they had lost everything.

The Syrians who were looking after us were never outwardly scared. They were totally confident. They would prepare medicine in the middle of the room, while we were cowering behind a wall. They were not scared of anything.

Rémi’s death affected me a lot. And perhaps it will affect me even more later. His career was taking off. He had just won the World Press Photo award. He was becoming famous. I was sure he was about to work with magazines he’d dreamed of working for, like TIME. We were excited about getting to Syria. We thought we had a lot of work. I thought, O.K., we’re here, we’ve come for this, to be inside Bab Amr. There was no time to think that maybe we’d made a mistake in going there.

I really liked Rémi. I had a lot of affection for him. Perhaps because I’m older, I felt a bit like an older brother. But sometimes he was the one advising me, especially when we were in dangerous situations. And he just disappeared, so quickly.

Rémi was cremated in Paris on March 6, the first anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

MORE: A Reporter’s Escape from Syria

French photographer William Daniels was on assignment for TIME in the besieged district of Bab Amr. On March 1, after nine days there, he and Edith Bouvier managed to safely cross the border into Lebanon.

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French photojournalist Rémi Ochlik, who was killed Wednesday in Homs, Syria, won first place in the General News category for the 2012 World Press Photo competition for his photo story, “Battle for Libya.” Take a look back over his photography from Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake there. (All images credit Rémi Ochlik/Imago/Zuma Press unless specified. All images taken in November 2010 unless specified.)


A view of the Aviation refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in November 2010, as cholera raged throughout refugee camps across the country.


A young person is cared for at a cholera-treatment center in Haiti.


A woman prays in a cholera treatment camp.


A child plays in Port-au-Prince’s Cite Soleil slum.


Cyclists in Cap Hatien pass burning tires set ablaze by locals angry at U.N. peacekeepers, whom they blame for the outbreak of cholera.


Roadblocks are set up around Cap Hatien by angry protesters.


People gather in the street of Cap Hatien to protest the U.N. presence.


A coffin in the streets of Cap Hatien.


At sunrise in Aviation Refugee Camp, a child emerges from a makeshift shower in an abandoned helicopter.


Brazilian soldiers with the United Nations peacekeeping force patrol the Cite Soleil slum.


A view of U.N. peacekeepers on patrol in Cite Soleil.


Supporters of presidential candidate Jude Celestin rally at the Carrefour airport.


Presidential candidate Michal Martelly rallies supporters in Port-au-Prince.


Police arrest two men they say were involved in a knife fight on the sidelines of a political rally.


Another view of the arrests at the political rally.


Martelly supporters at a rally in Port-au-Prince.


Supporters of Mirlande Manigat, the only female candidate in the Haitian presidential election, attend a musical rally in Port-au-Prince.


Manigat supporters shout their approval.


Haitian police check bystanders for weapons during a patrol around the Cite Soleil slum and Aviation refugee camp in December 2010.


A woman suffering from cholera arrives via wheelbarrow at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Port-au-Prince in November 2010.


Rémi Ochlik in an undated photo. (Lucas Mebrouk Dolega/AFP/Getty Images)

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Rémi Ochlik, an award-winning French photojournalist, was just 29 when he died on Feb. 22, when government forces shelled a building where a growing number of foreign journalists were covering the battle in Homs, Syria. Ochlik died alongside Marie Colvin, an American who was one of Britain’s most honored combat reporters. Two other journalists were reportedly wounded in the barrage.

For Ochlik the horror in Syria came as he was just beginning his career. He was with his friend Lucas Dolego, a French photographer, on the streets of Tunis during the revolution there in January 2011 when Dolego was hit and killed by a police teargas canister. “We had come to work, so I kept on working,” he said in a recent interview, after being honored for his Arab Spring photos. “As a little boy I always wanted to become an archeologist, for the travels, the adventures,” he continued. That changed when his grandfather gave him his first camera.

Lucas Dolega—Polaris

Oct. 23, 2011. French photojournalist Remi Ochlik in Misrata, Libya. Ochlik was killed Feb. 22, 2012, by Syrian shelling of the opposition stronghold Homs.

In 2004, Ochlik traveled to Haiti and photographed the fall of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, winning the Francois Chalais Award for Young Reporters. He started his own agency, IP3 press, which specialized in combat photography, he covered the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008 and he returned to Haiti for a cholera epidemic in 2010. In 2011, Ochlik covered the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya; his work in Libya won him first prize in the General News category of the World Press Photo contest. One of the World Press judges said that his submission told a complete story.

“The idea was not to focus on just one part of the story,” Ochlik told the British Journal of Photography. “Because when you look at what happened, this war was divided in several parts—in Benghazi, in Misrata—and in what I’ve covered, I’ve tried to tell a story.”

Ochlik’s own story took him to Syria merely a week before he was killed. His and Colvin’s deaths came the same week that Anthony Shadid, a renowned foreign correspondent, died of an apparent asthma attack while sneaking out of the country where he had been reporting. Despite his young age, Ochlik understood the risks in his chosen profession. In describing his work in Haiti when he was only 20 years old, he said, “I could sense the danger, but it was where I always dreamt to be, in the action.” His being there allowed the world to witness horrifying atrocities, but it ended the life of a gifted storyteller when his own adventure had barely begun.

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