Matilde Gattoni Tells the Stories of Syrian Refugees

Matilde Gattoni Tells the Stories of Syrian Refugees

Each week we’ll feature one photographer from the PhotoShelter community, and share his or her story behind the shots that caught our eye.

The Story

Photojournalist Matilde Gattoni’s idea for this series, ‘The Swallows of Syria”, came to her while shooting a story about Syrian refugees for an Emirati newspaper, The National. “I was so frustrated the first day I went to the Bekaa, because nobody wanted to be photographed. Everybody was scared of the repression and the Hezbollah presence,” says Matilde. “Then one woman suggested that she could cover her face completely. I did that shot and when I came home I looked at the picture and thought: now that could be a story.”

Photo by Matilde Gattoni

According to Matilde, this series was one of the most challenging she’s ever covered. “None of the women wanted to be photographed at first,” she says. “They were all were extremely scared of being recognized and chased by the Assad regime.” Matilde and her colleague, Italian journalist Matteo Fagotto, chose to tell the stories of women who are not registered with the UN and don’t live in a refugee camp, but instead hide in small villages close to the Syrian border.

Photo by Matilde Gattoni

“After saying ‘sura’ (‘photograph’ in Arabic), the women’s smiles would suddenly turn, and their eyes would go dark,” remembers Matilde. Matteo would conduct the interviews to make the women feel slightly more at ease before Matilde started shooting. “At the end of the interview the subject and I would move to a separate part on the apartment (if possible) in order to have a little intimacy with them and take their portrait.”

Photo by Matilde Gattoni

In each house Matilde would carefully scan the place for a good spot to work. “I wanted the images to be in what I felt was the most feminine part of the house. Their stories were already incredibly powerful and sad – there was no need to add sorrow and drama in the images.”

Matilde also quickly recognized that these women were putting their efforts into transforming these temporary refugee houses into homes. “Women are able to recreate a warm environment even in the most miserable conditions. It shows an incredible strength and a will to survive no matter what.”

Photo by Matilde Gattoni

What caught our eye

Matilde creatively twisted an initial frustration and set-back into a series of images that tells a story of fear and personal struggle. Her idea to take rather traditional, formal portraits of these women with their faces completely hidden forces the viewer to focus on other elements, and their written story. See her entire series along with Matteo’s written piece on Time’s LightBox: The Swallows of Syria.

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