Lens on Syria, by Daniel Demeter


Back in January 2015, I introduced the readers of Syria Comment to my website, Syria Photo Guide, where I have documented the historic and cultural sites of the country. I also posted a small collection of my photography of Syria taken between 2006 and 2009.

Since that time, I have been privileged to work with Just World Books to publish Lens on Syria, a photography book to be released this upcoming Tuesday, September 20th. Joshua Landis has been kind enough to author the foreword for this book, which features the best images of my extensive photography collection of pre-conflict Syria. This 304 page volume contains over 400 full-color images, is organized into seven chapters by geographic region, and is available in both hardcover and paperback. I’ve focused on Syria’s monuments and architectural heritage, interspersed with images of daily life, such as its vibrant and colorful souqs (markets), and its stunning landscapes. I believe this book captures the beauty of Syria that many, myself included, fell in love with.

Some of the wonderful endorsements we’ve received for the book:

Ross Burns, author (Monuments of Syria, Damascus: A History, Aleppo: A History)

“Daniel has a wonderful eye for the people, the landscapes and for the beauty of [Syria’s] extraordinary range of historic buildings. It is important that all who knew Syria before 2011 keep alive the memory of a society whose interwoven pattern of faiths, ethnicities and cultures is now threatened.”

Dr. Abdalrazzaq Moaz, former Director-General of Antiquities and Museums (Syria)

“Daniel Demeter’s photos make up one of the most important recent collections of photographs concerning the cultural heritage in Syria. These pictures reflect his love and knowledge of Syria and its heritage as well as perfection of photography.”

Dr. Alastair Northedge, Professor of Islamic Art and Archaeology (Université de Paris)

“What a celebration of life in Syria as it once was! Daniel Demeter takes us on a fascinating visual tour of Syria as it was before the war, following his years there in 2006-9. Every minor detail of people and their cultural heritage comes to life in this rich photography.”

Dr. Lamya Khalidi, French National Centre for Scientific Research

“Smells, colors, sounds and deep-time history of Syria jump from the pages of Demeter’s book in a mosaic of past and present and tell the breathtaking layered human story of a region whose multicultural identity and heritage are persistently being endangered by current violent conflict.”

Here are a few sample spreads from the book’s interior:

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The seven chapters of Lens on Syria are organized as follows:

  1. Damascus
  2. The South (Damascus environs, al-Suweida, Daraa)
  3. Homs & Hama (and environs)
  4. The East (Palmyra, al-Raqqa, Deir al-Zur)
  5. Aleppo
  6. The North (Aleppo environs, Idleb)
  7. The Coast (Lattakia, Tartus)

If anyone has any questions regarding the book, I will keep an eye on the comments section and be sure to respond to any inquiries! Thanks for your interest.

Comments (15)

Eugene said:

Photos taken pre-civil war. Question, are any still standing today?

September 14th, 2016, 6:20 am


Joshua Landis said:

Daniel, Your book is a treasure! So glad I can do a little bit to help promote this work that has pre-occupied you for a decade. It is so obviously the product of great care and artistry.

September 14th, 2016, 7:16 am


Jamie Travis said:

Mabrouk ya Daniel Demeter! Looking forward to getting my hands on a copy. You’ve inspired me to do something with the vast library of film/images of Syria I have accumulated since 1996. Best wishes for the launch next week! Jamie Travis, Sydney.

September 14th, 2016, 9:47 am


Daniel Demeter said:

Eugene – While the destruction inflicted to cultural heritage during the conflict has no doubt been enormous, a significant portion of the sites I’ve covered do survive largely intact. The historic districts of Damascus, for the most part, have been spared, as has the city of Hama. The coastal provinces of Lattakia and Tartus, and the southern province of al-Suweida, have largely avoided damage to heritage sites as well. Many sites in rural areas elsewhere have seen extensive illicit excavations and looting, and some have been damaged in clashes, but the monumental structures themselves are often still standing. The most devastated areas, as far as cultural heritage is concerned, have undoubtedly been the old cities of Aleppo and Homs, and the deliberate destruction of ancient temples and tombs in Palmyra. Many of the monuments from these sites have been demolished beyond repair.

I believe it is imperative that a solution is found to this conflict that prevents violence from spreading to the areas that have thus far avoided it (not only for protecting cultural heritage, of course, but also for humanitarian reasons). There is still much that can be saved.

September 14th, 2016, 11:54 am


Daniel Demeter said:

Thanks, Jamie! Do try to digitize your images and share them, if you can. I didn’t imagine my photography would become a sort of historical record of pre-war Syria, but given what has unfolded the more imagery that is available the better. There are several archaeologists working on 3D digital reconstructions of Palmyra’s monuments using my photographs for reference. I imagine the same will be needed for Aleppo in the near future.

I myself have a collection of film photography from earlier visits to Syria (2003-2004) that I’d like to digitize. I’m hoping to find an affordably priced slide/negative scanner that does a quality job.

September 14th, 2016, 12:02 pm


Jasmine said:

Congratulations,amazing photography and thank you for your great effort to share the beautiful history of our beloved country.

September 14th, 2016, 1:05 pm


Mina said:

Dear Daniel,
Could you point to me pictures of the museum of mosaics in Ma’arrat al-Nu’man? Before and after?

September 14th, 2016, 2:54 pm


Eugene said:

to # 4 Mr Demeter, Thank you for the information, as it clears up any view I might have with just the information we are fed through most channels, giving views of wide spread destruction, which boggles the mind as to what drives the destroyers to do what they do. I suppose it belongs to the “it’s not my country mindset?” Thanks again.

September 14th, 2016, 3:32 pm


Ghufran said:

Thank you Daniel, Syria will always be a treasure in the eyes of historians despite the destruction and the bloodshed.

September 14th, 2016, 10:50 pm


Daniel Demeter said:

Hi Mina,

I’d be happy to help you track down some photographs of the museum in Maarat al-Naaman. Photography was officially prohibited inside the museum pre-conflict, so I wasn’t able to take too many myself, just a few photographs of the courtyard of the khan that houses the museum. Feel free to e-mail me at dan@lensonsyria.com.

September 15th, 2016, 12:13 am


Mina said:

I don’t remember photographs were not allowed! A friend has dozens… maybe you just didn’t pay the correct bribe! I will write you offline, in case you find pictures. Recently, a French historian was claiming in a radio programme that it had been destroyed purposedly by Assad while the locals would have done everything to protect the artefacts. I have my doubts and wanted to see pictures.

September 15th, 2016, 2:04 pm


Majedkhaldoun said:

The purpose of the current truce and the American Russian agreement is different for US and Russia , Russia wants to absolve itself from their crimes they committed , and they want to exterminate Ahrar Al Sham so they can weaken the revolution , US purpose is to delay the solution till the next president arrives,
US failed to get rid of Erdogan, now they are building another military base in Syria, there is no desire for US to end the fight in Syria, they need more time to get rid of Erdogan first, so they want to keep things as is, till further opportunity arrives

September 15th, 2016, 8:59 pm


Ghufran said:

Most rebel factions rejected the usa-russian agreement because they are organically connected to Alqaeda. Ahrar al-sham in particular does not want to separate from terrorist groups because they both do not believe in a peaceful end to the war. Vengeance to islamists is a core belief even if they call it justice, to them peace without a military victory means defeat. They live by the sword and winning the fight to them is more important than peace, they think that heaven is the real destiny and their sheikhs have in multiple Fatwas ordered their followers to seek martyrdom instead of the public good. Thawrajiyyeh in the west do not send their kids to jihad they send them to private schools, they do not send their kids to fight they use poor men instead. Connected and wealthy Assadists are not much better in that regard but they understood western politics better than thawrajiyyeh did, their argument from the start was that the regime is not as bad as the islamists and that argument found receptive ears in the west.

September 15th, 2016, 11:30 pm


Majedkhaldoun said:

The Turkish Russian agreement says Syria must stay Secular but not sectarian nor Islamist,
Russia accepted Turkish safe zone,
US goal to separate Turkey from Syria , by creating Kurdish state, is opposed by Turkey and Russia

As for this truce, It is destined to fail, Assad is cheating , , US is reluctant to follow , Russia is planning tricks only, so every one is to blame for the failure
We know that neither military nor political solution is possible, because many outsiders are involved, status quo means division

September 16th, 2016, 7:07 am


Ghufran said:

Rebels in Aleppo refused to withdraw near Castillo highway and instead they fired at Russian troops and the red crescent, nusra threatened to arrest anybody who tries to come in bringing aid, so Russian Air Force bombed Islamist positions few hours ago and Syrian army troops returned to Castillo highway. Cease fire in Aleppo may be falling apart, the US admin can not make up its mind about Syria, US government spokesperson on bbc stuttered and danced around every question, that means our government here is not serious about ending the war.

September 16th, 2016, 11:55 am