The city of Mosul, the 2nd largest city of Iraq, was occupied by ISIS in june 2014. At the Al-Nuri mosque, ISIS leader Abu bakr Baghdadi declared the caliphate. Life under ISIS rule in the city was incredibly though and Mosul felt as a big prison for the residents. Breaking any of the absurdly strict rules means facing medieval punishment or even death. In 2016 the military campaign from the Iraqi army, Kurdish peshmerga and the international coalition started to retake the city from ISIS. It was the largest military operation since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In july 2017 the city was liberated from ISIS. Due to heavy fighting and US airstrikes almost the entire old city has been laid in ruins. A lot of work still has to be done in rebuilding the city, while people are trying to pick up their life again among these grim ruins.

This series is about the exceptional qualities that men possesses and come to surface in face of extreme tragedy; resilience and hope. Mosul is not the only place that needs to be rebuild in Iraq and buildings are not the only thing that need to be restored. The problems lie much deeper, all throughout the country. But, I believe portraying the country and it's people in a positive way, and not one of just despair and misery, will be beneficial in moving ahead. 
eventhough the eyes of the adults still carry undeniable tragedy, a sparkle can be found in their sight of children playing, traffic rushing past and the returning bustle: life that is flowing back.
A woman clambering over the debris in her street

I chose to start the series with the destruction and dark tones, in a devastated neighborhoud, gradually moving to more spacious and brighter images, filled with more life. They represent the hope that I detected in the people, believing in a brighter future.

Around 138,000 homes have been destroyed in the battle and many remain uninhabitable. Some of the homes have been repaired by NGO's but still thousands of residents are unable to return, with no homes to go back to.
The grim and filthy alleys are dark, lit only by a bleak fluorescent bulb above the door of a family who recently returned to their home. The colourful clothes of children on the street are a stark contrast to the grey background, symbolic of their innocence in these dark events.


The fierce battle for liberating the city lasted almost nine months. Thousands of people were killed and millions displaced. The street battles and aerial bombardments have caused an apocalyptic damage to the town. The amount of reconstruction needed is daunting, as the money required to rebuild, so far the cash strapped government of Baghdad has been able to supply little of it. Safety is also still an issue as ISIS activity has re-emerged in and around the city. 

About 78 % of displaced people from Mosul report having their house damaged or completely destroyed. Around 138,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the city during the conflict, of which in West Mosul alone still more than 53,000 houses are flattened and thousands more damaged.
Zooming out further expands and brightens the scenes, showing that the sun shines even in the most devastated places, illuminating the sunken skeletons of buildings.

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Towards the main streets one comes across more activity on the streets. The light tone is mainly carried by children, who soon were playing and laughing in the streets again and seem to care little about the rubble around them.
A careful commercial revival is taking place. Amid the rubble more and more shops and restaurants are opening that help to resume life as normal. Organisations like the world bank are working on creating more employment opportunities.  This is a little kebab shop in one of the streets where more establishments are slowly opening. People come here to meet and chat, children are playing in the streets; it sets the direction for the life people hope to return to.
The fish market is getting louder again, resembling its former position as the buzzing center of the city. more and more traders are again cutting their fish and the activity seems to ignite the nearby markets, where more shutters are carefully raised to reveal bags full of fragrant spices and humming machines grinding sesame seeds into tahin. Slowly but surely, life is flowing back into the city.
The fish market is one of the liveliest places in the old town. The bridge that connects it from the busy west part of town ends here and is sprawling with cars, loud honking and traffic jams included. The re-opening of the fish market in the Maydan area has brought back life and business to the Old City.  Except the ruins in the backdrop, the hustle and bustle of the place covers the memories of the fierce violence that took place. The merchants say that life just goes on and they are trying to move forward. The fishermen are rebuilding the market with their own money and without government support, and all they want to do is bring back life in the Old city.


Abu Hamza Lived next to the Al Nuri mosque, now largely in ruins, the minaret blown up by ISIS themselves. 'My home was destroyed but now I am starting to live there again. When ISIS came they took it from me, made it a hospital. Then it got destroyed by airstrike. The situation was horrible, ISIS did looting, killing, raping. The christian people left, as did many other ethnicities who were able to. Now we still need a lot of work to do the rebuilding'. 


Shalan Mohammed works as a shovel driver at a construction site, is married and has kids. 'I want to be an inventor or creator, think of new products and services, maybe in medicine. But I'm not going to school. There is a lot of things I want to make, lot's of ideas in my head but there is no support.'

Mosul used to be an busy hub with a lot of factories, the economy and trade took a big hit from the war and needs time to recover.

Luckily schools are open again and at the university of Mosul great initiatives are going on to restore their precious library. ISIS completely burned down the grand library, once one of the largest of the Middle East. UNESCO called it “one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history.”

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