Italian Alessio Romenzi is among six photographers whose work in Syria has won a 2013 World Press Photo award.
The 38-year-old, who only took up photography three years ago, was awarded first prize in the General News Story category for his series “Syria Under Siege” for Time Magazine.
After a year working in Palestine, Romenzi traveled to Egypt and Libya to cover the Arab Spring uprisings in those countries. He was later one of the first journalists to be smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and has since returned numerous times, mostly via Turkey, to the north of the country.
His pictures have appeared in Time magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Paris Match, 6 Mois, Newsweek, Polka magazine, Le Monde, Le Figaro, El Mundo, El Pais, La Repubblica, Corriere della Sera, Internazionale, L’Espresso, Der Spiegel, Verdens Gang, The Guardian and The Telegraph.
In an interview with The Daily Star, Romenzi describes the factors that make Syria one of the most emotionally and logistically difficult conflicts to cover and why he keeps going back.Q:What makes Syria different from other conflicts and uprisings that you have covered?
A: I am not that experienced, I have only been doing this for three years, but I was in Libya and Egypt. I think what makes this one of the worst conflicts is simply how long it has been. It’s just gone on so long and the conditions are so tough. And the highest price is being paid by the civilian population. In Libya they just didn’t have so much time to kill so many civilians. When people wake up in the morning in Syria they just hope that they see the end of the day. It is a very raw conflict.
The other thing is that there are just so many elements inside, so many players. It didn’t happen in [just] weeks, so it has changed. It started with the regime against the people, then the regime against the Free Syrian Army and now there are probably hundreds of different groups fighting for different things. The religious motivation is now coming through very strongly. The whole movement has been very complicated.
Q:Why do you continue returning to Syria? Why is it important?
A: Journalists that follow conflicts are seeing what is happening inside. There are no officials in Syria, there is no U.N. There are just the fighting elements and civilians ... and journalists. That’s why journalists need to be there. It really is a duty. We need to take the viewers there so that they can understand what is happening.
The first time I went to Syria, it was completely new to me, but I had an extremely beautiful experience because of the people. It is very dangerous, but also very beautiful. The people who hosted me the first time made me part of their family. I have stayed in touch with many of the people I have met. I really care about the Syrian conflict because of the contacts I made there.
Q:What is the image that stays with you the most?
A: The photograph of the mother grieving for her two sons who were killed when a mortar struck their house in Homs. It is somehow an iconic image. As a journalist we face the pain of people many times. You start not to react, like a doctor who has treated patient after patient. But that time was just so sad, and yet beautiful at the same time. Her two sons were grieving beside her and the bodies of her other two sons were laid out in front of them. Two dead bodies, half of their family. It’s just not right. It feels wrong. It’s unfair.
Q: How do you manage sharing people’s pain?
A: I don’t know if we ever really share the pain that these people are experiencing. There are definitely times when I think I have just put my face behind the camera and done my work and part of me hopes it will be useful to someone somewhere. You often want to reach out and give someone a hug or something.
I have a goal when I am deciding on this angle or that one or this close or that far; the idea is to take the viewer with me, to try to let them feel the situation, to smell, to hear, as many sensations as I can put inside the image.