The aerial image that went around the world
“It may be that the quality of photographic transparency, once presumed dead, has simply shifted from the picture to the picture maker. In such a practice, subjectivity and truthfulness are no longer at odds, and the acknowledgement of point of view is itself a precondition of photographic honesty.” (Marcia E. Vetrocq)
Following an 18-month siege by regime forces and weeks of intense clashes, al-Khalidiya neighborhood of Homs, which had been under the control of opposition fighters, was recaptured by the Syrian army on 28 July 2013.
Syria’s third largest city, Homs had largely fallen off the international media’s radar since the early spring of 2012, when rebels lost a months-long battle for control of the Baba Amr neighborhood. Since July 2012, after opposition forces launched a campaign to capture Aleppo, foreign journalists entering Syria through Turkey have largely been converging on the northern city, as well as opposition-controlled areas in Idlib province.
On July 27, after regime media announced that they had “secured” al-Khalidiya, aerial images surfaced which for the first time evinced the colossal scale of destruction.
Throughout the siege, local photographers and photography collectives such as Lens of a Young Homsi have been uploading thousands of street-level images from Homs revealing entire blocks reduced to rubble. And a few days before al-Khalidiya fell to regime forces, images circulated on social media sites showing the eleventh century Khalid ibn al-Walid mosque billowing smoke and exhibiting extensive damage.
But the aerial images, taken from an estimated height of 120 meters and capturing an area spanning at least 0.6 square kilometers, put those individual snapshots into perspective: as far as the eye can see, entire swaths of the city have been laid to waste. Dusty unpaved avenues, shell-pocked crumbling structures, not a soul in sight.
The aerial shots were picked up by international news media and credited to AFP/Getty Images. But nowhere was any mention made of how and by whom these images were obtained.
Did the regime take these photos and circulate them? Do opposition forces have airborne surveillance capabilities – commercial or otherwise? And which area are we in fact seeing?
The trajectory of circulation
The aerial view purporting to show al-Khalidiya appears to have first been published on 27 July on the Facebook page of Bab al-Sbaa media center (a neighborhood south of the center of Homs), and later that day by al-Khalidiya Local Coordination Committee using the logo of Bab al-Sbaa media center.
Aerial images published by Bab al-Sbaa media center on 27 July 2013 ( 1 – 2 – 3 )