In July 2008, accepting the offer of a cup of coffee from a taxi driver whilst trying to leave Maaloula,  an Aramaic speaking, mainly Christian village in Syria, I was introduced to the man's extended family, (some of whom volunteered for the portraits you can see here) shown around the village and told about 'the Jesus festival', an important date in the Christian calendar there. Mistaking the combination of fire and crosses in Boutros, the driver's son's description of the rituals of the festival for a burning of crosses, I decided to return to Syria the following year to document the festival. These photographs were taken over three days in September 2009. They record some public aspects of the event and some of those involved in the ritual celebration fires that echo the beacon lit in Byzantine times to carry news etc etc... The photographs carry an outsider's incomprehension and curiosity about the relationship between land, religion and cultural identity, politics and adolescence, in this ancient village home to a minority culture in the Middle East. There was a solo show of 29 photographs from this series in Solihull Art Gallery in 2010. I subsequently lived in Damascus for a year, and made very different kinds of photographs. The culture and landscape of the region has, of course, been gravely altered by the uprising and civil war that followed the brutal repression of protests against the Assad regime in the spring of 2011. I showed these photographs again in 2013 in St Stephen's Church in Bristol, where a fire is lit to mark the end of lent and the beginning of spring.
The beacon fire still tended at dawn the next day.
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The beacon fire still tended at dawn the next day.
Cliftop Fire at Dawn
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
I offered to photograph the taxi driver's family, as a way to enact a future link between us; we'd only just met and I didn't know how much this meeting would change my life. We could barely exchange a word, but they took me in and fed me more than the offered coffee. I left the village on his brother's bus about 20 hours later.
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I offered to photograph the taxi driver's family, as a way to enact a future link between us; we'd only just met and I didn't know how much this meeting would change my life. We could barely exchange a word, but they took me in and fed me more than the offered coffee. I left the village on his brother's bus about 20 hours later.
Boutros and Family
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
Early light softens the landscape.
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Early light softens the landscape.
Dawn Landscape
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
A young man who has slept in a tyre awakes
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A young man who has slept in a tyre awakes
Awakening
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
At the end of the bus ride, the next day, I made a final family portrait. He'd been a barber, and laughed when we met the day before at how unkempt I was. Had he not retired, he could have helped me out.
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At the end of the bus ride, the next day, I made a final family portrait. He'd been a barber, and laughed when we met the day before at how unkempt I was. Had he not retired, he could have helped me out.
The wife of Suleiman Wehbe and Suleiman Wehbe
Deir Mar Musa, 2008
Two framed photographs of the same man, younger and older.
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Two framed photographs of the same man, younger and older.
Suleiman Wehbe
Boulos' grandfather as a younger man, twice
Men come down from the mountain after tending fires overnight
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Men come down from the mountain after tending fires overnight
Procession
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
A neon cross is taken down to make way for fire.
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A neon cross is taken down to make way for fire.
Neon Cross
Maaloula, Syria, 2009
Tyres are burned to ignite logs which glow when they are thrown over the cliff onto the town below
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Tyres are burned to ignite logs which glow when they are thrown over the cliff onto the town below
Fire
Maaloula, Syria, 2009