23/04/2017 Freiburg

sfeerbeelden van de opening, het was erg leuk en interessante vragen gesteld.

Great pictures from the opening, it was very nice evening and a lot of interesting discussions. من افتتاح المعرض اليوم، كانت أمسية مميزة والكثير من النقاشات الممتعة.

Tolle Bilder von der Eröffnung, es war ein sehr schöner Abend und vielen spannenden Diskussionen شبكة الصحفيات السوريات Syrian Female Journalists Network AMICA e.V Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) #Freiburg #Syrian_elsewhere







planned in Netherlands in Arnhem museum  16 juni 2017






Image Analysis :Mohan Dehne



This report addresses the issue of gender equality in Emerging Syrian Media (ESM).

Photographs as Text Women in ESM Photographs

“Randomly open any magazine. If you find a photo of a women, she will likely be a refugee. Her face will be hidden and so will her opinion” (ESM producer)

With developments in technology, the visual language has become an essen- tial element in media and communica- tion in all its forms. Today, we communicate and deliver news prominently through photographs. The photograph has become a significant part of our daily life.

Visual language can be understood in terms of a visual code which the read- er must decode to understand the content. According to Ferdinand de Saussure: “To understand a photo, we must decode the symbols and mean- ings it contains, and read the photo as we read a written text to figure out the meaning”. According to him, each symbol has significance, and ultimate- ly, as they say, a picture is worth a thou- sand words.

The visual language has its own gram- mar and symbols which are used to con- vey an idea or to report a specific inci- dent. This can be done independently or within a text in combination with a certain context. Each photograph has a visual form that we can see, as well as a content that is meant to be de- livered to the receiver. The choice of form has an impact on the appropriate delivery of the content, and affects the understanding of the photograph. Fur- thermore, it is crucial to understand the context from which it came, as other- wise the photograph remains two-di- mensional and loses its third dimension.

This concept is based on the photo- graphic analytical work of the writer and photographer Ton Hendriks in his book Beeldspraak: Fotografie als visue- le communicatie (2003) on the semiot- ic theory of the philosopher and writer Roland Barthes, as expounded in his El- ements of Semiology (Barthes, 1964).

Looking at all three dimensions of the ESM photographic samples studied for this research, there is evidence of a deficit and a lack of knowledge on the concept of visual language, particular- ly in the field of printed and digital me- dia.

There are problems in the selection process and signs of a lack of photo- graphic experience. This may be relat- ed to misconceptions about the func- tion of the affixed-to-text photograph, which is often deemed secondary and complementary to the text. At times, the photograph is only used in produc- tion to fill an available space.

It is hard to tell if this situation can be attributed to the ESM editor or the pho- tographer themselves. Another pos- sible explanation may be insufficient funding available for visual task experts. According to the writer and teacher in higher education Wolters-Noordhoff, in his book The Fundamental Rules of Jour- nalism, editors are researchers and cre- ative managers whose job is not limited to arranging and formatting the article, but extends beyond that to ensuring that an affixed-to-text photograph is:

• Able to provide journalistic and news value

• Catchy
• Providing information
• Adding an interesting look to the page to attract the reader

In comparison with these criteria, the photographs under review tend to be generally inclusive rather than specific. For instance, most photographs of Syri- an women in ESM are stereotypical and display the conservative Sunni segment of the Syrian society, as can be seen in Photo 1. Furthermore, as well as continuously portraying women as victims of the war, most of the photographs under review portray women victims who are veiled and from the same excluded socio-economic background This type of image has become one of the clichés of ESM photography, as has the image of the broken woman struggling to meet the needs of her children.

Although these are genuine photographs, nonetheless their ubiquity represents a generalisation about Syrian womanhood. All Syrian women do not look like this most common image, but the frequency of this visual representation creates a certain image of Syrian women. As Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography, “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge (…); it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.” (Sontag, 1973).

There is no doubt that the cultural and ideological background of the editor plays a vital role in the selection of imag- es. It is difficult for them to deal with the matter objectively. This is demonstrated by the choices made when publishing images of Syrian Kurdish women, where a contrast is evident vis-à-vis other pho- tographs of Syrian women. That shows an attempt which may be unconscious to denote women’s affiliation in the typical published photograph.

Furthermore, the preference and ex- pectations of the reader will certainly also be taken into consideration when selecting photographs for publication that are supposed to represent women and their role in the Syrian revolution. Many attempts are made to depict and explain the role of women in the revo- lution through photography, but many of the visual selections in ESM clear- ly fail to represent the positive aspect of women’s role as an active element within this public movement. An example of this can be seen in the photo below, where we cannot see the faces of the women in the picture. Although it is clear that their faces were hidden for security purposes, in some way, the function is to obscure their agency as well as their identity.

Returning to the form and content of the photograph, if the form is not se- lected correctly, the content will be in- appropriate to the context of the text. The task of the photographer is not only to document an incident photographically, but also to provide the details which are not included within the text. The text and the photograph are com- plementary elements to tell the story appropriately and in its entirety.

Another issue is the re-use of photo- graphs, meaning that that a single pho- tograph is used for the context of two different texts. Some photographs are used many times for different subjects in different contexts, as was the case with Photo 3, and sometimes a photo- graph may be borrowed from another context, and then attached to an un- related text. The purpose may be to fill an available space in the production/ layout, or because an editor is obliged to attach a photograph, and specifically a photograph of a women.

Photographs are generally considered to be credible and authentic by the viewer, as they have been taken at a specific moment in real time. Hence they are considered to be real and to be documenting a fragment of reality. However, in ESM, as in photographic media in general, we are not allowed to know what happened outside of the frame of the photograph with which we are presented. We only have a par- tial view of this reality, as exemplified by Photo 4. In this photograph of a Syrian woman looking alone and exhaust- ed with her three children, we do not know whether her husband or partner is standing by, just outside of the frame. In short, the elements selected by the photographer when shaping a photograph are significant in reporting a specific situation to the receiver.

In many cases, the difference between a man and a woman editor/photographer is evident from the choices made about the form and other aspects of a particular photograph. For example, when an editor is a man, women are more likely to be marginalized or absent in the selected photographs. This marginalisation is not necessarily deliberate. 

It is important that an editor is knowledgeable and experienced in the use of the visual language and the function of the photograph inside the text. They need to know how to deal with photographs properly, and not only to use them to fill available space or to beautify the publication..

It is critical to recognize the opportuni- ty that the photograph offers to printed journalism, especially as a means to at- tract readers and holding their interest. Thus, it is necessary to invest properly in both men and women photographers to ensure that they are professional and have specialized knowledge in this area. It is not enough to tolerate the use of any old photograph alongside the text; nor is it acceptable to ask journalists to capture any available image without receiving the proper training.