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A great portrait captures the very essence of its subject, and this year, TIME continued its long legacy of storytelling with a number of compelling photographs. 2012 saw newsmakers in several categories and countries, so we sent photographers around the world to capture them as they made their mark. In Turkey, Peter Hapak photographed several Syrian families who had sought refuge in the country after fleeing their homeland to escape the brutality of Assad’s regime; in Iowa, Martin Schoeller captured Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas as the young gymnast trained — both in the gym and at home; and in Israel, Marco Grob photographed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who, in 2012, proved that his influence is not only large, but lasting. Their portraits — and the rest in this gallery — are visual testaments to the diverse and colorful personalities who made 2012 memorable; herewith, a look at TIME’s best commissioned portraits this year.

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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.

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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

  • 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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Phil Moore / AFP - Getty Images

A Syrian rebel with a bandaged eye walks past closed shops in the Bab Nasr district of Aleppo on Aug. 14.

Fresh fighting erupted in Aleppo, Syria, monitors said, as a pro-government daily warned the capture of a key rebel district was just a "first step" in the retaking of all opposition areas. 

Core loyalist troops, drawn mostly from Assad's minority Alawite sect, are locked primarily into what is shaping up to be a protracted battle for Aleppo, as well as in shoring up an uncertain grip over the capital Damascus.

In the process, Assad faces the specter of Deir al-Zor province slipping out of his orbit and with it Syria's 200,000 barrel-a-day oil output, military experts and diplomats say.

Continue reading Reuters article.

Phil Moore / AFP - Getty Images

A Syrian rebel holds his rifle in the Bab Nasr district of Aleppo on Aug. 14.

Phil Moore / AFP - Getty Images

A shell blast damaged a hospital room in the Shaar district of the northern city of Aleppo on Aug. 14.

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

A Free Syrian Army fighter fires his sniper rifle from a house in Aleppo on Aug. 14.

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Slideshow: Syria uprising

Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

After months of protests and violent crackdowns, a look back at the violence that has overtaken the country.

Launch slideshow

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Hussein Malla / AP

A Lebanese military intelligence agent holds his gun as he runs during clashes between Lebanese troops and a Syrian gunman who had engaged in an hours-long shootout with the security forces, in Beirut, Lebanon, on May 24, 2012.

Anwar Amro / AFP - Getty Images

Lebanese security forces take position as they storm a building in Beirut's Karakass district on May 24, 2012 following a shootout during the night with a man holed up inside a flat.

Hussein Malla / AP

A Lebanese soldier, right, and a policeman, left, take position in front of the apartment building where clashes erupted.

Reuters reports — Two people were killed when Lebanese soldiers stormed an apartment in Beirut on Thursday where a gunman had exchanged fire with security forces, a security source at the scene said.

The source told Reuters the gunman, a Syrian national, was killed when the soldiers broke into the apartment at around 6 a.m. (11 p.m. ET), following several hours of shooting.

Boiling point: On Lebanon's Syria Street, a civil war brews

They found the body of another man in the apartment, along with rifles and grenades, and two men who were arrested.

Four soldiers were wounded, the source said.

It was not immediately clear whether the incident was linked to recent sectarian violence in the Lebanese capital which has been fuelled by the conflict in neighboring Syria. Read the full story.

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Hussein Malla / AP

Lebanese soldiers help a young girl and her family flee her house via a backyard during the clashes.

Anwar Amro / AFP - Getty Images

Lebanese security forces detain an unidentified man outside a building in Beirut's Karakass district on May 24, 2012.

Syria's chaos has come over the border into Lebanon, with gunmen clashing in deadly street battles. NBC's John Ray reports.

 

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