The Red Prison – Photography Exhibition in Iraqi Kurdistan
The Red Prison – Photography Exhibition in Iraqi Kurdistan


This peaceful village in Iraqi Kurdistan was destroyed twice by Saddam and rebuilt twice by the Kurds who live here History repeats itself All parts of Kurdistan have fought to survive under oppressive regimes Yet, here the Kurds remain, the largest minority in the world, still greatly shaping world politics I first came to the region as a photographer at the height of the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria With portrait photography, you can connect with people on a deep level You can break the rules of purest journalism and you can become intertwined in someone else’s struggle It was always a dream of mine to come back and show my photographs in Kurdistan when the war was over But once ISIS was defeated, Turkey invaded Syria and the Kurds found themselves with yet another tyrant to fight This my friend Ahmed, he is the managing director of Metrography, the first and only photo agency in Iraq The original co-founder was Ahmed’s brother who was kidnapped by ISIS,
and after years of searching, is now presumed dead When we heard about the book of “We Came From Fire” of Joey Lawrence We thought that this a project that we have to bring it because… In the meantime, we are demonstrating, we are having protests in our city, we are [also] asking for rights for the people in Rojava
but… we thought that if we have this exhibition there will be more support to Rojava and to the Kurds in Syria and to highlight the concerns in their lives and what is also happening in Rojava With a humanitarian disaster unfolding across the border in Syrian Kurdistan, Ahmed and I knew it was time to organize an exhibition as quickly as possible Our plan was to fundraise for those displaced by the Turkish invasion As well as help train Kurdish and Iraqi photographers to continue telling these stories As photographers, it felt like we all had to get together and do something So at Metrography, when I was talking with Ahmed about the show he was saying that “I have a very interesting location for you,” and he was showing me stuff from around the prison
and this prison, Amna Suraka, has a famous history as a torture site by the
Saddam Regime where they used to imprison Kurdish and Iraqi civilians in this building Even as you walk around, you can feel it in the walls
the tension here from history Now, on the same walls where they used to torture Kurds, we are displaying portraits of Kurdish fighters, so it send a very powerful message These are the Kurds who are resisting a similar dictator and because of that, the Kurds in all different parts of Kurdistan, can start to understand these people in Rojava and what they’re struggling against more Yeah so, this is my first time seeing the prison, we are just walking around and kind of feeling which photos should go in which area, how big should we print, how many photos can we make, and where should we put them and we are also coming up with some last minute ideas, that could be stressful, but we have time -So I think we should put the giant panorama of all the guerillas in Mexmûr‎, you know the big group shot?
-Yeah Because the colors tones in this room is like that photo -Do you know which photo I am talking about?
-Yeah, I know I know We set an unrealistic goal for the exhibition. The clock was ticking We had just a few days to create all the prints
and prepare the gallery space So, we are using a process that I’m not familiar with but It looks great, but I am just used to seeing these prints on
every kind of paper, so there is still some weird stuff One of the things that I struggling with is
using very specific printing language, terminology, in the translation Like “the blacks are to crushed”, “it’s too saturated”,
these words are difficult to translate -But this one … Is perfect
-Finally! Long live the struggle of our printer Right now we are hanging the big banner on the top floor of the prison and we are just clearing this dirt that’s in the way
that has collected over long period of time We are going to have a huge print right here in this window -Joseph, we did it, it looks look literally incredible
-Have a look here it is Ah boy It looks better than I could have even thought So usually in this neighborhood the electricity is fine but it happens that the day that we have to hurry and print the show
so that it can be hung tomorrow… It decides to cut out I’m multi-tasking. I am texting, getting the subjects, and also being the lights for the guys So, right now all the lights are out so we are proofing by iPhone light Yeah, it [the printer] loves the blue Right now we are loading three days of printing A total of 57 prints for the installation As you can see we are being very delicate Be careful, Brian… Please – I got you
-Thank you – Why are we whispering?
– I don’t know, I didn’t want to hurt the prints …After that, you are going to replace it, only you…
No one is going touch it, we just want to know the space and the photo Right now we are placing the photos randomly, but them I’m going to
solidify the edit and make it more of a story Each room can have a mini chapter within that story Do you see the small one? Well, tomorrow is the opening of the show and
there is no electricity in the building, so we are going to buy… How many of these? Forty one lamps so… – We need to buy forty-one lamps… and….
– And twenty bulbs Maybe we can return them after?
What’s the return policy on this lamp? There is no return, even if you take this today, you cannot bring it back in the evening Do you need forty of these for your house? It’s not a mosque, it’s only a house Well, these are all light bulbs. We have enough light bulbs
but we only have one lamp but we have around forty more to get It’s okay we still have a few hours – Okay, so what has been the most difficult challenge of this installation? I don’t think there is anything difficult because when you love something, you have to do it-
nothing is hard for us. A especially when we do that job for Joey, exactly, we’re going to do everything for him. Because he deserves it, the work deserves it,
everything deserves the best. How many volunteers have helped out? Well, it depends on the timing, like right now we are
around 7 to 8 people working and at night another group is working, so yeah Why do you think so many people volunteered? Well, because we basically love the show and also it means a lot to us and in this situation, we want to do anything that can have some effect on the situation and also Kurds have a huge hospitality in them, so yeah At the last minute I became nervous I wanted the photos to be accepted as an accurate portrayal of the Kurdish struggle I knew this wasn’t going to be a normal photo exhibition To the Kurds, these images aren’t of some far away land, these fighters are their people Because I am a Kurdish girl, when I see those Kurdish fighters beside men, who have weapons and they’re so strong it makes me feel like
I wanna do the same Yeah, it makes me feel like I can do it too I have seen so many girls, they were in a young age, they
should’ve been educated Instead they were fighting but also, I felt a sense of pride because I consider them from my people Unfortunately, history repeats itself Today we are not here for anything negative or anything bad We are here to look inside what is happening to Kurds somewhere else around the world but this place has its own history and this is somewhat a reminder of what that history was, and I guess what is happening right now They’ve been taken by my next guest Joey Lawrence who spent 4 years traveling the region all before last months military offensive by Turkey against the Kurds
in Northeast Syria he will be live from Sulaymaniyah, and Joey welcome here… So right now, we are headed away from the exhibition, going North, to a place called Badarash Camp This an IDP camp where a lot of the refugees have come from Rojava and settled,
fleeing the Turkish invasion So, we’re going to meet some of the people who had to run away from the fight face to face The reason why I came here is to protect my daughter from the crisis
that’s happening in Syria. When the war was happening around us, When I was in the Kobane war, I was remembering my daughter a lot during the fighting I was thinking ‘What will be her destiny if I become a martyr?
What will happen?’ For this, I decided to bring my girl out and
protect her away from the battles Rockets don’t ask who you are when they launch,
they don’t mind who is civil or military, Military outcomes are paid by civilians How long have been doing this job [here]? It’s been nearly…. one week that I started my job (at the camp). Are you planning to go back to Rojava? I can’t… I am wanted for military services, because of the fighting, it’s not good Yeah, so I saw this guy Kurshid, cutting other people’s hair and yeah, he did a good job,
so now it’s time for me to get my hair cut What I see out there is the light look very nice so I’m like, “shit, we should start shooting soon” So, this is Badarash Camp, it is a place for IDPs And in the past, all these tents where filled with people who were running away from ISIS Now since those people have gone home, the tents have stayed up
and now it’s filled with people who are running away from Turkey before the Turkish invasion, these people were living in one of the most stable, safest regions of Syria and now you can see most of these people who are living in the camp are Kurds from Rojava
displaced from the Turkish invasion People are coming to me saying that they are very happy that I made this historical
documentation of the Kurds struggle against ISIS but the thing is, I don’t want it to be only a historical document of something that gets destroyed later I think that this should be a stepping stone or a way forward toward
a democratic process in the region These fighters in Rojava have some very creative ideas
so much so, that we wonder who actually is giving the support? is it the coalition who is leading the way, or is it this movement inside Rojava? The coalition supported them, but the real ideas and the real peaceful
society came from the Rojava Revolution That’s not something that the Americans or any internationals brought So, what I hope is, that this book is not something that once was, and was destroyed Instead this is a historical document, of the history that lead to something greater

19 thoughts on “The Red Prison – Photography Exhibition in Iraqi Kurdistan”

  1. Roney Fraga Souza says:

    The photographs are beautiful and the story is inspiring.

  2. freedom 123 says:

    Your not just a great photographer but also great story teller ❤️Thank you for all your hard work Joey and newroz piroz be 🔥

  3. Andre pierre says:

    I was gonna save this video for when the Quarantine start but

  4. Aaron says:

    Ah I worked at Camp Cropper in Baghdad one year as a part of my second deployment. Good Times =]]

  5. Courts Griner Photography says:

    Awesome work, brother! Powerful photos and portraits!

  6. AutoFOCUSED says:

    Great work, Joey. One of the reasons you're one of my favorite photographers of all-time. Not only is the work great, you have a purpose/story behind your projects and it just makes everything so much better.

  7. Visuals by Prosper says:

    Well done Joey, you're making a difference

  8. S says:

    Thank you, Joey. As someone from Sulaymaniyah and someone who has been to Amna Suraka, your dedication to the exhibition and sharing a story which is so close to Kurdish peoples hearts, really means a lot to us ❤️ dast xosh u Newrozit pirozbet

  9. Naz Jaff says:

    I got so emotional as I was watching it. Also made feel proud of being a kurdish woman.
    I really appreciate your art

  10. Shilan Ahmah says:

    Awesome project!!great work!!So proud of Kurdish people and being Kurd.

  11. Marshall Garlington says:

    Incredible work. Important work.

  12. Namdar Moradi says:

    Dear Joey
    I would like to send you my warm thanks and appreciation from Eastern Kurdistan (Rojhelat) for your great work. Happy Newroz and hope for you ever refreshing luck like Kurdistan spring.

  13. Kurdish Heritage says:

    Thank you so much for your hard work <3.

  14. Arian says:

    astonishing photos, amazing work. Thank you.

  15. Said Abdullah says:

    Great job👏🏼

  16. Daniel Shortt says:

    You're a very unique individual Joey. Don't change!!

  17. Renwar Najm says:

    You have done an incredible job. I have bought the book on the last day of the exhibition and amazed by the astonishing photos and well-writing diaries at the back of the books. Thank you for documenting this milestone in Kurds' history.

  18. Sivan Miller says:

    amazing work joey

  19. Rafael Stanisław Roman says:

    Great work, Joey. I love how you as a example for me against mass media. You've done this with only a few pictures, which are amazingly well made. Quality over Quantity, keep up the good work.

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