Happy February, everyone! Today, we are so thrilled to share with you this new story from Andrea Malin, “On the Verge.” Malin’s story takes us into Syria, following the photographer Miranda, whose main news outlet, RAW Media, is focused on “covering ‘under-reported conflicts”’ in remote regions.” Miranda is on the verge in her photography career, freelancing for now but angling for a staff position. She is on a mission to find Dr. Tamir Ahmadi and his family for her Before and After series and won’t stop searching until she finds them.
Upon learning of the bombing in the Ahmadi’s neighborhood, a new idea for a feature took hold: Before and After. She could use her pretty pics to show the human face of the war’s violent escalation, swelling like a tsunami from the time she left into these early days of 2013. This was a hook, a story she could sell. She pitched the story to Ravi at Reuters’ Istanbul bureau. “Syria’s gotten too fucking dangerous, Miranda. Everyone’s folding up shop,” he’d said. “We’re not sending freelancers there.” The London Times gave her the same message. Margaret figured RAW would take a story from Syria if she delivered it. She might even pitch the New York Times. Or Vanity Fair. Why not aim high?
Miranda wants blood. She has learned in this work—in her actual life if she’s being honest—to hide what she wants, and this desire lodges in her throat, metallic, chalky, she can taste it. Her editors, on the other hand, don’t bother to conceal it. Not enough action Sean Fitts from RAW News texts in response to her night shot of a soldier with a cigarette dangling from his lips, the smoke of an exploded shell rising behind him. To Miranda’s closeup of three women standing in an Aleppo breadline: Let’s see people fighting for bread not waiting for it. After she climbs through the windshield of an exploded bus to get a shot from the inside, a shard of glass slashing her thigh, the Sunday Times editor replies: cool art shot. No fucking clue what to do with it. What frustrates her most is the Guardian’s rejection of her 45-second video of a man pulling his teenage son, unconscious, from a pile of rubble—Thanks, but we’ve got plenty of that shit in stock.
In ways implicit and explicit the message has been clear: If it doesn’t bleed, it won’t lead. Miranda sold fewer than half of her photos after her trip to Syria last September, barely breaking even. Even her main outlet, RAW—WAR spelled backwards, a rapidly growing media company that launched by covering “under-reported conflicts” in remote regions—took only two of her images: a soldier slumped on a chair, blood splattered on his white Nike shoes, and another of a woman, her face slashed and blackened, gripping the ankle of a dead child. Blood.
Now, barely four months later, Miranda is back. It’s January 2013. An icy wind tears around them as she and Narbad, her fixer, squeeze through a gap in a low-slung barbed wire fence snaking through a stretch of rocks and weeds, all that divides Turkey from Syria—peace from war. The darkness is just breaking behind the hillside: a preternatural orange-red cracking through the inky black, like the eye of the universe opening. Violent and exquisite, this new light seizes her. But to capture a moment of truth like this, presented by the natural world, would require an ability to harmonize the beauty and pageantry above with the bloodshed and tragedy on the ground. As Miranda has no idea what awaits her, this moment is lost to her.
With government issued visas and permissions rare for journalists now, it’s no longer possible for them to cross officially, at Bab al-Salam. Narbad has chosen this alternate crossing along the porous northern border as it runs through an olive grove and is rarely patrolled. A shard of protruding metal scrapes her arm. “Fuck!” Her expletive breaks the silence, sending two startled birds flapping from the shrubs and into the fragile dawn. Miranda keeps walking, pressing into her wound, dismissing a dirty white scarf that Narbad offers as a makeshift tourniquet. “It’s nothing, really. I’m fine.”