Six stories for six years: Syria anniversary photography project visualises toxic psychological impact of war on children
Save the Children commissions renowned photographer Nick Ballon and conceptual artist Alma Haser to produce striking 3D photographs and animations, visualising the devastating mental health crisis amongst Syrian children.
For interviews with Nick Ballon or Alma Haser, please contact Sasha Nicholl at S.Nicholl@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7737 050412
Award-winning photographer Nick Ballon and conceptual artist Alma Haser have partnered up to produce a striking series of conceptual, 3D photographs and animations, visualising the devastating mental health impact of conflict on Syrian children, to mark six years since the war began.
Commissioned by Save the Children, the artists worked with six refugee children now living in Turkey - each with their own harrowing story of war and survival, and each now dealing with the psychological implications of what they experienced. The initiative coincides with a major research project by the charity, Invisible Wounds, which found widespread evidence of 'toxic stress' and mental health issues among children still living inside Syria.
Children involved in the project include 7 year-old Razan*, who hallucinates, no longer able to differentiate between fact and fiction, since being pulled alive from rubble in an attack that killed her sister and left her orphaned; 9 year-old Hassan*, who heavily stammers and became withdrawn after seeing his father shot dead at blank range as fighters stormed their home; and Ahmed*, a young boy prone to violent outbursts who was displaced in ISIS-controlled Raqqa, after being separated from his mother in a bombing.
In order to visualise the invisible, psychological pain these children suffer, Save the Children worked with the two artists to produce a powerful photography and animation project - the first collaboration of its kind. All of the images, photographed by Nick Ballon near the Turkey-Syria border where these children now live, have been physically manipulated and art-worked by Alma Haser using a variety of creative techniques, including ripping, folding, crumpling and origami – each one selected to suit the story the children told.
Alongside the images, Save the Children has also produced a series of short, poignant animations which combine video of the portraits being manipulated with harrowing audio testimonies from the children and their relatives. In contrast with the now familiar news imagery of Syria’s war, this project offers a different visual perspective, bringing to the fore the brutal psychological scars of war which usually remain out of sight.
Nick Ballon said, “the aim of this project was to tell the Syrian story in a different way. I spoke with each child extensively and was struck by the resilience many of them displayed in the face of what they’d been through. Setting up the shots, I took a playful approach to the natural light, so that their personalities – as well as their psychological troubles – would come through in the portraits.”
Alma Haser said, “working on each image, I selected different manipulation techniques to suit the different stories. For example, ripping the images seemed fitting to represent anger – whilst folds across the image helped highlight anxiety or distress. It was important to keep the children’s individual experiences at the heart of the project. Throughout, I wanted the artwork to empower and bring to life, rather than take away.”
For the Invisible Wounds report, Save the Children and its Syrian partners interviewed more than 450 children, adolescents and adults inside Syria in the largest study of its kind conducted during the course of the conflict. It found that children are living in an almost constant state of fear, terrified by shelling, airstrikes and ongoing violence, with devastating psychological consequences.
Mental health experts consulted for the report said it showed children are suffering from a condition called ‘toxic stress’, which can occur when children experience strong, frequent or prolonged adversity¸ such as the extreme violence occurring in the Syria conflict. Continuous toxic stress response can have a life-long impact on children’s mental and physical health.
In addition to an immediate ceasefire and a negotiated end to the violence, Save the Children is calling for:
- All parties to stop using explosive weapons in populated areas and attacking civilian infrastructure like schools and hospitals, as this clearly came through as the main cause of children’s distress and fear.
- An immediate end to siege tactics, and to ensure unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas, so that agencies like Save the Children and our partners can reach the most vulnerable.
- Donors to make a new global commitment to support children’s mental health and wellbeing in emergencies, including sufficient funding for mental health and psychosocial programming inside Syria.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
- Four of the six children involved in this project (Ahmed*, Razan*, Mohammed* and Hassan*) now live in a residential centre for children and mothers near the Syria-Turkey border. Save the Children’s partner Shafak is helping provide them with counselling.
- Nesreen*, Adira* and her son Abbas* live with their families in homes near the Turkey-Syria border. Save the Children is providing them with psychological support and helping them register with the Turkish authorities so they can obtain their Temporary Protection permit, which gives them access to services such as healthcare and education.
The crisis in Syria has seen millions forced to abandon their homes and seek safety where possible. Many Syrians have been internally displaced multiple times before deciding to leave their own country. Newly arrived refugees in Turkey do not always know what their rights are, what services they can access, or where they can turn for help. Save the Children’s case management programme helps some of the most vulnerable families and children through meeting their immediate and basic needs, but also building resilience through informing them of their rights and services available. There are over 450,000 school-aged Syrian children in Turkey who are unable to access education. Syrian children are able to enrol in Turkish state schools, but many struggle with the language barrier and years of being denied any formal education as one in three schools inside Syria have had to close. Save the Children’s education programme has support 54 Temporary Education Centres for Syrian children so far, and actively assists families who struggle to keep their children in school through providing transportation assistance. Poverty is a key factor keeping children away from education, with many children acting as the breadwinners for family. Equally, and less visible, is the impact of the conflict on the mental well-being of children who need targeted psycho-social support to overcome their trauma.