Mahmoud Bazanko, 29, is from Damascus. Here, he talks to us about his sense of identity:
I’m a photographer, and this is perhaps the personal identity that best expresses who I am. I pick up my camera and tell stories. I feel my photos express who I am, those stories in the pictures I’m taking on the street, in the portraits of the people I photograph. Maybe that’s how I’m able to convey a sense of my identity as an artist, even though I studied law. In terms of religion, I was born Muslim. I feel a deep belonging to where I’m from and I feel like its history is a part of me. My history is the history of this particular place where I find myself: its streets, its neighborhoods, its squares. This is the oldest capital in the world.
On how the conflict has impacted his sense of identity:
I was around 12 years old when the war began. I didn't have a proper adolescence, and I had no compulsion to emigrate. I began looking for a way to connect with history, Syria’s history. I wanted something to tie me to the past and return me to the world I’d been in thirteen years before, I’m not sure exactly, the conflicts were very painful. At the same time nothing has remained of that world other than old habits and customs. These pictures I’ve preserved for myself alone, the ones I imagine.
On how a different outcome to the conflict might impact his sense of identity:
If there wasn’t a war, it wouldn’t have affected me or anyone else. Even those who travel wouldn’t be looked at differently. At the beginning they saw you as the cause of the war, that your presence in their country was an incitement to war. It was enough that you were living in dignity! The war affected my family and work and housing. I wish, I wish so much that the war hadn’t expelled me from my home and distanced me from my community and friends and from my old memories and from the past.
On how emigration has affected his identity:
I’ve experienced emigration, the most difficult kind, which is internal displacement. I was displaced from my home and had to live outside of it. It’s like they yanked me violently out of my childhood. I grew up overnight when I was still just 12 years old! I was expelled from my home, from where I lived in Ghouta, and I stayed on the streets! It was a terrible feeling and the most difficult thing about it was that they called us homeless. I wish I could travel, but where would I go? Most of my friends who traveled had a very difficult time. I’ve stopped and asked myself at many points: where do I want to go? I’m 23 years old now, and whatever new country I go to I’ll be born again overnight at 23 years old. I won’t know the language or the habits or customs or laws. Of course at some point I’ll reach the stage of integration with the new society, but you’ll feel yourself implicated in something, like you’ve committed a sin by leaving your parents and friends and society. At the same time you want to live, to get married and make photographs without having to hear that terrifying phrase: “photos not allowed here!”
On whether there are certain rituals, customs or traditions that help him stay connected to his identity:
All the customs, rituals, and traditions are things I imagine only on my visits to gravesites during Eid, whether Eid al-Adha or Eid al-Fitr. This is the most wonderful ritual, or maybe it’s just me who thinks so, I don’t know. I wait for Eid just so I can see how people gather around the graves of loved ones and pray there. Holidays, and the atmosphere at Ramadan, prayers, celebrations and weddings, gatherings of family and friends… there’s nothing left of any of this save for pictures. And my mother—specifically—still preserves this picture until I see her next. Rituals are nothing but pictures now, only pictures!
If he had to define his identity in brief terms:
I’m a half-burned film and the other half is still developing.