Patrick Baz: A new perspective on the war in Iraq

AFP Middle East Photo Director Patrick Baz signed his book 'Don't Take My Picture, Iraqis Don't Cry' (Tamyras editions), at the Francophone Book Fair in Beirut; A very personal and fascinating book that covers the war in Iraq from 2003 until 2008. The book constitutes a part of Baz’ diary in Iraq during his days at work or boredom, spent alone and with the American soldiers… Emotions, life, death, and deep humanity over each page.

Patrick Baz: book on the war in Iraq

Trough his book, Patrick Baz wonders how could we be able to keep one side of humanity balanced in the middle of the chaotic war between the objective of a camera and the reality of the occupied Iraq in which people suffer to keep their dignity despite the horror and the humiliation they live in?

For more some thirty odd years Patrick Baz has been covering armed conflicts in the Middle east (namely Iraq, as of 1998), as a photojournalist for the AFP. « Don’t take my picture. Iraqis don’t cry », covering the Iraq war from 2003 till 2008, is a display of the most vivid and penetrating moments of the war as seen through his lens.

Launched as a preview at Bayeux-Calvados Award for War Correspondents, which was held from 5 to 10 October 2009, "Don’t take my picture. Iraqis don’t cry" has been very well received by the public and the French and international press.

The Bayeux-Calvados Award is ordained to give respect to journalists who practice their professions under dangerous conditions in order to provide free information to the community.

Born in May 7, 1963, in Beirut, Patrick Baz, French/Lebanese was only 12 when the Lebanese war started in 1975. He was forced to grow up faster on the rhythm of the bombs since he lived not far from the Christian and Muslim streets of Beirut. Fascinated by the war, he decides to flirt with death not by holding weapons but with a case. It was a camera which he never let go and to which he owes his daily adrenaline dose.

Between 1980 and 1988, his objective of freelancing is pointed on the conflicts of the streets, exploded cars, onslaughts, Israeli invasion reaching blankness, reaching disgust.

In 1989, AFP offers him the opportunity to cover the 1st Intifada. At the age of 26, Patrick Baz, finds himself at the Palestinian occupied territories: Gaza and Cisjordan. He discovers a land where the stones are more valuable than humans.

Meanwhile, he gets the chance to cover many other conflicts that shook the world like the first Gulf war in 1990, the Kurdistan 1991, the Somali, Hell of Sarajevo in 1993.
Later on, Patrick Baz became the Middle East photography Director with the AFP in 1996 which never stopped him of running after hot incidents where life seems more interesting and intense and even more fragile like in Iraq since 1998. Noting that since the American invasion in 2003 he has been the Director of the department at Bagdad.

He met the rebels, who were at Fallujah, but mostly Patrick never forgets the look and eyes of the children who were present at the war and whom he left; those marked his heart forever which he leaves in a touching book even after twenty years of profession.

While having a small conversation with Mr. Baz, he told us that the book was a sort of a cathartic emotional output, a therapy for someone who faced fear, risks, war and solitude in the most egregious ways; highlighting that it is impossible to take photos in the Iraqi streets without the risk of being kidnapped. He emphasizes that his book does not show Iraq through the American side.

As for his feeling after the publishing of the book he said “I feel like I gave birth”.

Nevertheless, Patrick says that after more than 30 years in the field he understands now the occupier’s situation; “inexperienced troops suddenly found themselves in a country they do not have the minimum knowledge about its culture nor its language.”

Talking a little about the level of photojournalism he says that unfortunately, photographers are not able to show something other than wars and blood, whilst we should expose the other face of the Arab world, despite the heartbreaking fact that we don’t really have a visual culture unlike in Occident where they educate people from a very early age about painters, arts and culture; While our first and almost unique reference is War! Therefore he asks for more creativity from the side of photojournalists and more openness from each Arab citizen.

Finally, Patrick says that he will always be ready to cover wars in order to show people all around the world how much it is horrible! “No To War” is the message he wants to convey through his book.

Karen Nohra - Menassat