Photos of war in Libys, Syria and Iraq

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Photos of war in Libys, Syria and Iraq
Qayyarah, Iraq. November 2016. Islamic State fighters set fire to oil wells near Qayyarah to use the smoke as cover from Iraqi air force and US-led coalition airstrikes. (Lorenzo Meloni)

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A quote on page 17 of photographer Lorenzo Meloni’s book, “We Don’t Say Goodbye” (GOST, 2022), really sums up any and all war coverage, past and present. In bold, black letters on an orange background, these are the words: “History repeats itself and logic does not change through the ages.”

From the early days of photographic coverage of war to now, we’ve been shown the same things over and over again, although much of our media coverage has become more sanitized and controlled over the past few decades after the very graphic coverage of the Vietnam War. One might ask, given the cyclical, insane nature of history that repeats itself over and over again, “Why even bother?”

I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of war coverage these days leaves me numb. In my job I see pictures of unspeakable inhumanity more or less daily, so it would make sense that I would feel this way. Even so, I believe that war coverage has not become less essential to society at large. Our inhumanity, however cyclical, must be exposed through reporting like Meloni’s.

In “We Don’t Say Goodbye,” Meloni invites us to accompany him on a 10-year journey he took through Iraq, Syria and Libya that paralleled the rise and fall of the Islamic State as a territorial entity .

Meloni’s view, like that of the best war photographers before him, is tinged with an artistic sensibility. Through 162 pages and 91 images, Meloni presents us with beautifully and masterfully crafted images that belie the horrific situations they depict. In image after image and country after country we are constantly reminded that – as another group of bold, black words in the book tells us – “People change, actors change, tools evolve, but the stage of events is constant and the story of the conflict is the same.”

Over the course of the 10 years that Meloni worked on this project, he traveled extensively throughout Syria, Iraq, and Libya, collecting thousands of images in which, when he began to look at them while making this book, he found a common thread of could see fragmentation. As he says at the end of the book:

“The word that kept coming back to my mind was ‘fragmentation’ because the countries where I worked were all deeply divided by ethnicities, religions, tribal factions, territories and political affiliations. ‘Fragments’ also seemed to evoke the violence of war, where people are often killed by shrapnel from explosions. ‘Fragmented’ also seemed to sum up my own view, and visual representations, of the events I witnessed.”

“This inspired me to create a series where conflict photographs are interrupted by images of items found among the debris of war and excerpts of writing by members of the Islamic State from letters, graffiti and publications. … The images form a loop – a constant repetition – throughout the book, reflecting my experiences in the field. Despite being seen as action packed and adrenaline fueled, war is actually very repetitive and although I have worked in different countries I often found myself photographing similar scenarios.”

One image that comes to mind when we think of Meloni’s work and other coverage of war is the ouroboros – an ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail. As Meloni noted, in the images and in the words scattered among them, what he saw was not new. And frankly, the idea that war is perpetual is insane. Why in the world do we keep subjecting ourselves to it? Why can’t we stop? Why can’t we learn from the past? The question itself is eternal. Perhaps there is no adequate answer. Then again, there’s the saying that goes something like, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe we are just insane?

You can find out more about the book, and buy it, here.

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