Help set up a dark room on the Syrian Lebanese border

All this stems from connection - a kind of pre-nostalgia before ever going, echoes of myself in my dad’s stories and photos, a Lebanese friend in Cuba, the mapping of a real place according to how I first remember the words, the names, the news of the 80s, and the realisation that being somewhere isn’t ever like how you see it on tv or hear about it or read on the news.

I’ve been thinking about refugee issues and their representation for a number of years in Birmingham, working with The Refugee Council to deliver analogue photography training to asylum seekers and their supporters as part of a health improvement project, running photography workshops in partnership with St Chad’s Sanctuary, and Birmingham Opera Company, raising funds for media training for BARA (Birmingham Asylum and Refugee Association), and to support ASIRT’s (Asylum and Immigration Support Team) work.

All these connections have informed a pilot project that I started recently, in partnership with a small independent NGO in Hermel, Lebanon, right on the Syrian border, called the Hermel Cultural Association. Dima, my partner, and I met with Firas and Amani, both co-founders of the space, in August 2016. They spoke to us here about their project, their main activities, their hopes and their dreams.

In August, we delivered darkroom equipment, cameras, film, paper and chemicals to the centre, developed plans and spoke in more detail about the association, what it does and what it needs. I'm interested to see if the darkroom will prove more resilient than digital alternatives given the particular circumstances of participants, and together with Amani and Firas we decided on the following elements for the project:

- Dima will run a fundraising, finance and project management workshop for the association staff. This, we hope, will contribute to their independence, and sustainability plans;

- I will set up a darkroom in the centre, and train staff in its use and maintenance;

- I will also run a participatory documentary photographic programme, supporting young people, Lebanese and Syrian, to document their lives with analogue cameras and produce an exhibition of their work, in house;

- We want to try to disseminate their photography online and through a fund-raising exhibition in Birmingham;

- And we want to develop possibilities for ongoing cooperation with the association to support their social, educational and environmental aims. One of the main goals of this project, at least the photography part, is also awareness raising - to open a channel of communication and cooperation between people here in the UK, the communities of Lebanon hosting refugees, and the refugees themselves.


So here is what I'm thinking:

You have ideas, you make photos, but life isn’t bound by them, it’s always other people’s too, often not even really yours at all; but we make much of what we know about the world based on the inscrutable authority of the most extensively disseminated sources. And often we defer action and judgement, directly, indirectly to others.

Much is contended about migrants, refugees, Syria, and how these ‘issues’ intertwine with our life, our knowledge of their situation, our dire governments decisions and how corporate media interpose agendas unbidded. I don’t really know what will happen here, but two things underlie what we’re attempting: trying to close a circle, to make as direct a contact as possible between people there, and people here; and seeing if we can work together, if that connection helps, if its worthy of our small hope. The photographic part of the project hopes that in connecting we might find something; something might be found.

So it's a straight swap: buy a print, the money goes to the project. I'm not being paid for my time, that’s my donation if you like, but I hope to cover some expenses, the flight, fuel, fees for translation, consumables, food and drink. So you can support the project by buying artworks, and leave it there; but I hope you’ll want to see what can happen next. Think of this as a call for collaboration: let us at least start a discussion about what we can do, here and there.

The workshop will take place on the 19th and 20th, and on the 26th and 27th of November.

Here is the basic budget, and funds raised beyond the cost of this pilot project will be donated to HCA to support future projects.

Flight: £350

Petrol for transport Beirut - Hermel: £70

Translation/ interpretation: £75 x 4 days: £300

Photographic consumables: £250

Refreshments: £100

Total £1070

To fund raise I’m offering for sale the following prints in editions of 10, at £48 pounds each, or 3 for £99. They’ll be printed by Palm labs as digital c-types, signed and numbered on 12”x16”paper.

To order prints, please email me your preference and address on danburwood(at)gmail(dot)com.

Skater, Martyrs Square, Beirut, Lebanon 2008

Skater, Martyrs Square, Beirut, Lebanon, 2008.


Torso, Palmyra, Syria; scanned bag, 2010-11.


Waltzer, Raouche, Beirut, Lebanon, 2008.


Tea with metal casters, Aleppo, Syria, 2008.


Dawn, Ma'loula, Syria, 2009.

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