Syria has become the land of topless minarets and headless little girls. It seems in every video there is always something missing, something broken, something that can never be mended. You learn about things when they are broken -- friendships, love, people, and even cities. I learned from watching the revolution that when things are broken, they take up more space.
Whole objects are compact and efficient. A child's long intestines coil perfectly, unseen inside her flat stomach, unlike the sheer mass of tangled pink flesh that spills out next to her slaughtered body. The sharp edge of a broken skull penetrates another child's forehead as if it had been a concealed knife all along, posing as a smooth, white, curved shield. A minaret is sleek and graceful standing in the sky -- but when it falls, it breaks into mountains of rocks in the street, its top tiers taking down a face of a building along with it. Even Syria itself, a once quiet country that seemed not to take up any space at all before the revolution, is now a regional crisis, clogging newspaper headlines, international political discussions, and social media forums with millions of words and images.
Things take on new, unimaginable forms when they are destroyed. Concrete floors fold into overlapping vertical sheets along the walls of buildings. Charred bodies become smaller, forever frozen in their tortured positions. Metal doors of shops crumple like tin, separating from their frames. Even pleasant memories are twisted with destruction: The crackling sound of burning wood will never comfort me again, as it will always remind me of the crackling wooden doors of Aleppo's historical shops when they were set ablaze.
When things are destroyed, you realize, too late, how fragile it all once was: bones, stones, walls, buildings, cities.
Comprehension of destruction and the change it brings comes in waves -- like grasping that your family is in exile or understanding that places from your childhood have disappeared forever. The dark spaces of the city begin to match the dark places in your mind.
A childhood friend laments, "When we went to the Old City, we never took pictures. Who would ever take pictures in Aleppo?" And it's true; my photographs of Aleppo are all with visitors. They increased in number over the years, when I became a visitor myself. Now we excavate what we can find, using our photographs as references for the city that we mistakenly treated as an unchanging background in the composition. Who would ever have thought that we would stay and she would burn?