War-ravaged Syria has created some visuals that are a product of otherwise benign, ordinary objects, improvised to function as life saving screens in a turbulent landscape. In this country reduced to little pockets of combat and battle, even the most mundane objects have found newly-found purpose and meaning. Who would think that store awnings, curtains or even drapes, once used to ornament a modest home or provide shade for a small business would become shields against the prying eyes of the enemy. These sheets are strung together and hung between buildings and across streets.
This is done hoping that the sheets would at least obscure or disturb a snipers line of sight. At times they would look as if they were there to afford some resident a bit of privacy. But theirs is a more profound purpose. Residents live a very precarious existence in Syria, having ordinary routine tasks like going to the town bakery or visiting a neighbor turn into high risk activities. This has become the new normal in a country where strife is endemic, and where these tattered sheets have become a symbol of the decline in the country’s state of affairs.
As the conflict enters its third year, President Bashar al-Assad continues to cross swords with the ragtag army of defectors, armed civilians and militias. It is a classic battle which we have been seeing in contemporary history. Organized might versus determination and guts. The sheets are symbolic of the ingenuity and inventiveness that is essential to wage war with a well-armed military commanded by a ruthless tyrant.
Photographer Franco Pagetti, a veteran of conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq caught the images of these sheets and their disturbing purpose in several ominous photos. For Pagetti, the sheets reminded him of Baghdad’s endless concrete barriers in 2006 to 2007, when violence peaked there.
“Aleppo’s sheets serve the same purpose: they protect lives,” says Pagetti, “But you’re always aware how fragile they are …If your shadow falls on the sheet, the sniper can see you… Boom, you’re dead. If there’s a gust that blows the sheet up for a moment, you are completely exposed… Boom.”