Picture power: Middle East photographers focus on people behind the news

Tomas Abullah Hamo after being rescued from the so-called Islamic State in 2017. Courtesy: Afshin Ismaeili
Tomas Abullah Hamo after being rescued from the so-called Islamic State in 2017. Courtesy: Afshin Ismaeili
By Euronews
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Capturing someone’s life story in a single moment is what Oslo-based photographer Afshin Ismaeli does for a living.


Capturing someone’s life story in a single moment is what Oslo-based photographer Afshin Ismaeli does for a living.

He’s been traveling to war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq since 2005, risking his life to show the people behind the news headlines.

Like 13-year-old Tomas Abullah Hamo, whom he photographed two years ago in Mosul, capturing the moment the teenager’s life was saved (pictured above).

The Yazidi boy was the only survivor of 23 people kidnapped by ISIS, and he narrowly escaped death after being used as a human shield.

Ismaeli says that if he hadn’t been there with his camera, the rest of the world would never know what Hamo had experienced.

“Being trained, being brainwashed to be a suicide bomber, he was kidnapped when he was eleven,” says the photojournalist who works for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten.

Born in 1985 during the Iraq-Iran war, Ismaeli says that he knows what it means to suffer in silence.

Since then, he’s made it his life’s mission to inform others using his camera.

Photojournalist Afshin Ismaeli in the field on assignment. Courtesy: Afshin Ismaeili

“My childhood was full of conflict and bombing,” he says. “So, I found that I had to do something. I had to show what I have been through and to stop it.”

Through a series called Children of War, in September Ismaeli showcased his work at the Xposure International Photography Festival in the UAE emirate of Sharjah.

Unforgettable photos

In recent decades, iconic examples of images with impact have included the ‘Afghan Girl’ taken by American photographer Steve McCurry in 1984, who met then 12-year-old Sharbat Gula at a refugee camp in Pakistan.

‘The Afghan Girl’, taken by National Geographic photographer, Steve Curry in 1984.

Her piercing green eyes penetrated the hearts of people across the world and the impact of her photo inspired National Geographic to create a fund in her name.

Another haunting photograph from the archives is that of thee-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body on a Turkish shore made global headlines.

The picture highlighted the plight of Syrian refugees during the European migrant crisis of 2015.

Seeing the world through a different lens

Realizing the power a single picture can have to bring important issues into focus, photography enthusiasts in the UAE are exploring ways to take their hobby to the next level.

“You have to be very passionate about it to make this a business,” says Bjoern Lauen, managing director of the UAE-based production company Awesome Group.

Lauen held a workshop at the Xposure International Photography Festival, teaching amateurs the moral responsibility of photography, plus the realities of the job.

“You’ll have to endure periods of struggle, and hustle,” he says. “And periods where you wouldn’t earn as much money as you probably would wish to.”


Lauen says that it’s not uncommon for some photojournalists to sell pictures for less than a dollar while getting started in the business.

The challenges of the industry haven’t stopped Emirati Rashed Al Mazrouei from considering taking up the art form as a career.

After travelling to Northern India’s Ladakh region earlier this year, he said the simple life of residents there inspired him to consider photography full-time.

Photography enthusiast Rashed Al Mazrouei shows Euronews reporter Salim Essaid his photo from Ladakh, India.

“It’s a hobby for me, just a passion right now, and hopefully I can turn this passion into a profession,” says the HR specialist at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.

“Maybe one day I’ll earn from photography and travel all over the world, meeting different cultures and new people.”


In Mazrouei’s sights is Sub-Saharan Africa, where using his camera, he says he’s looking forward to clicking with more people.


Jenilyn from the Philippines saw the world through someone else’s eyes upon a visit to Sharjah’s Xposure photography exhibit.

And time flew by for Midhun from India at the same event and left motivated to pick up a camera.

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