Andrea Bruce is a documentary photographer who brings attention to people living in the aftermath of war. She concentrates on the social issues that are sometimes ignored and often ignited in war’s wake. Bruce started working in Iraq in 2003, following the intricacies and obstacles of the conflict experienced by Iraqis and the U.S. military. For over ten years she has chronicled the world’s most troubled areas, focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan. Currently, she is a member and owner of the agency NOOR. For eight years she worked as a staff photographer for The Washington Post and later as part of the VII network (2010-2011). At the Post, she originated and authored a weekly column called “Unseen Iraq.” She also worked at The Concord Monitor and The St. Petersburg Times, after graduating from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995. Bruce’s awards include top honors from the White House News Photographers Association (where she has been named Photographer of the Year four times), several awards from the International Pictures of the Year contest, and the prestigious John Faber Award from the Overseas Press Club in New York. In 2010 she received the WHNPA grant for her work in Ingushetia in the North Caucasus, and was a 2011 recipient of the Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship. In 2012, Bruce was the recipient of the first Chris Hondros Fund Award for the “commitment, willingness and sacrifice shown in her work.” The World Press Photo awarded her 2nd prize Daily Life singles for the image “Soldier’s Funeral” in 2014.
Bruce is currently spending a year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow.
Living Under the Regime
In Latakia Province, Syria, the brother of the deceased lieutenant comforts his mother during the funeral. September 30, 2013
Over 220,000 people have died in Syria’s current civil war and over 12 million are displaced. Beginning with protests in the spring of 2011, the war is loosely defined by opposition between rebel groups on the one hand and government forces under the direction of President Bashar al-Assad on the other.
In the beginning of the war, the anti-Assad Syrian rebels welcomed the media. The world saw heartbreaking images of cities completely leveled and hospitals overwhelmed. The rebels’ story was told.
But as the rebels started to lose momentum, they fragmented. The definition of who was a rebel changed. The region became unsafe for journalists—some were held captive, others were killed. Very few journalists cover this side of the conflict today.
Likewise, there is almost no coverage of the regime side of the war. Assad’s government denied access to most foreign media and all local media was state-controlled. But alongside New York Times reporter Anne Barnard, Andrea Bruce was given rare access to this story.
Upon entering Damascus (first in March 2013 and again in September of that same year), Bruce found an eerie bubble of normalcy. In this city—a rather liberal, cosmopolitan space—the streets were bustling, the food stands were full.
But the neighborhoods were crowded with people displaced from outside the city, overstaying their welcome with distant relatives and friends. Families of fifteen squeezed into tiny hotel rooms. Tourists were gone from the Old City. In their place marched funeral processions.
Inside tiered homes people whispered, living amidst the shadows of an over-crowded city. One couple said that rebels took their home. Another man said that his home and his business were gone. “It took so long to build, and crumbled so quickly.”
No one knows what will happen. The conflict continues to evolve, and these images are an attempt to tell the stories of the people behind the monikers, beyond rebel and loyalist. The human consequences of war are not marked in statistics, but in the very real changes of the people affected by those statistics.
Guilt and Innocence from the Syrian Regime
Bahaa Mahmoud al Baash, 37. Palestinian, lives in Syria.
He trained suicide bombers in Iraq for Al Qaeda, spent six years in Syrian prisons, fought in Syria for a global Islamic State—Christians must convert or pay tax. He glanced often at security officials, who have introduced him to multiple news organizations.
April 2, 2013
Escorted by the Syrian regime in a rare visit to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s side of their civil war, a New York Times reporter and I were shuttled to a secret location and told very little about how and by whom the detainees, seen here in portraits, were captured. We were told that they were jihadists—and that they were bad.
Surrounded by several imposing men, the detainees told us their stories, admitting to sometimes sketchy details of their supposed wrongdoings.
As journalists, finding the truth behind what people, governments, and factions are saying is our greatest challenge. The human desire to make everything black and white is always present —when, in fact, the story is almost always gray, and swayed by personal experiences or intentions.
In the few minutes I had to photograph the detainees, I noticed that my opinion of each man changed when the guards lifted their blindfolds. Their demeanor, their fear, their objections could be seen even without them speaking. As a visual translator, I found the story more confusing—and more human.
To bring our viewers closer to our dilemma of representation, I photographed each man with and without his blindfold, to illustrate the confusing issue of guilt and innocence. I wanted to show the tangled nature of war—the gray zones—the unknown that engulfs us through additional information and understanding, in a positive way.