Photobook on Syrian Propaganda Looks at One Family’s 40-Year Reign

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Translation from Arabic: "Thou, who was raised in the house of the glorious leader! Thou, who are higher than the highest! You, our hope! Faculty of Administration, Directorate of Administrative Affairs." Between Idlib and Aleppo, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Mosaic of Hafez Al-Assad. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Translation from Arabic: "Electric Company of Jandar. Forever with you, Bashar al-Assad." Jandar, south of Homs, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Translation from Arabic: "We sacrifice ourselves for you, Bashar." Between Damascus and As Suwayda, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Translation from Arabic: "Sorrow saddens us all and joy makes us all happy. With harmonious hearts and arms linked together, our national unity is as strong as steel. City Council of Dayr as-Zawr." Dayr az-Zawr, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Dera'a, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Near Jisr ash Shughur, 2009. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung
Book Syria Al-Assad by Oliver Hartung Nominated for German Photobook Award 2015. Photo: courtesy of Oliver Hartung

Syria Al-Assad, a collection of photographs offering a cultural kaleidoscope of a dynastic dictatorship, is a nominee for the German Photobook Prize 2015.

New York Times photographer Oliver Hartung spent two years in Syria between 2007 and 2009 taking pictures of timeworn monuments and distressed political posters depicting the Assad family, in power since 1971. Travelling to Syria on a broader mission in the Middle East, Hartung was initially struck by the overwhelming and recurring political paraphernalia on the roads in homage to the family. He began photographing them from the window of his moving car.

What emerges is a lexicon of billboards and official mosaics that showcase a collective loyalty to Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez, as well as a sense of national unity that has since been brutally abandoned. Hartung deftly strings this sequence together in an informed, yet provocative, way. The inscriptions below the photographs prove just as powerful and revealing.

The book is being recognized at a time when the Syrian conflict spirals into its fourth year. On the heels of continued violence and  political bedlam, this photobook provides a time-capsuled panorama of the Syrian government over the last half-century.

Syria Al-Assad was published with Spector Books and now boasts 30 limited edition copies. To date, these photographs may be the only visual memorial of a 40-year political reign.

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