Since March 2015, photographer and author Joey L. has gained unprecedented access to Kurdish guerrilla organisations fighting against ISIS, embedding himself into the chaos of the Iraq and Syrian Civil War on three separate trips.
His resulting series and book, We Came From Fire, provides invaluable insight into a series of conflicts that have been readily obscured by a complex narrative with myriad warring factions.
Three components meld to create extraordinarily brave and important documentation: Joey’s medium format portrait photography, a written study of the history of the turmoil that led to the rise of armed Kurdish militias, and intimate journal notes of vivid personal experiences while working as a photographer in the war.
The war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria has flooded our daily news with troubling statistics of massacres and mass migrations, yet there are faces and human stories at the heart of the conflict.
Joey writes, "From Iraq, one crosses the Tigris River into war-torn Syria, and is catapulted into a worldview crafted by the guerrilla. You are welcomed back by familiar faces wearing a palette of earth tones interrupted by a brightly coloured scarf – likely given to them by their mothers."
Joey continues: "Conversations over cigarettes and tea with much too much sugar often drift to conspiracy theories about the entire world plotting to destroy their cause. Oddly, they begin to make sense.
"The guerrilla’s secretive hierarchy vanishes due to its compartmentalization, and you find yourself among individual Kurds who left their families with the intention of defending their culture and way of life. We had once again entered the world of the Kurdish guerrilla."
During his travels, Joey observed ragtag volunteer guerrilla fighters with mysterious links to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) grow into a fully functional army and the US-led coalitions most trusted partner–Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
With little official government support and just light weapons; brothers, sisters, former university students and refugees that once fled from their homes have now taken up arms together against a common enemy–radical jihadist groups that contest the secular social reformations in Kurdistan.
Joey’s uncanny ability to gain trust and his fearless and open attitude to the unexpected, combined with his genuine love for his subjects and their quest for independence gives We Came from Fire a deeply felt sense of humanity.
We Came From Fire by Joey L. is published by powerHouse Books.