“Snapshots of a Time Before War”

“I was greeted by snapshots when I first entered Iraq in 2003,” writes the New York Times’s Marc Santora at the Times’s Lens blog. Santora, a foreign correspondent who “traveled in Iraq often from 2003 to 2010” and “is now covering real estate for the Times in New York,” continues:

Relatives clinging to snapshots of loved ones gone missing, pleading for help. Snapshots of family members killed in errant bombings, stained with the tears of grieving family members. Snapshots of happier times, proudly displayed by Iraqis kind enough to invite me into their homes.

With the chaos of war raging all around, these snapshots were something that could be grasped; moments frozen in time.

They told a story. Not the whole story. Not even a fraction of the whole story. But an important story.

Santora’s musings accompany a slide show of images collected in Iraq by the photographer Sergio Ramazzotti. Here is Ramazzotti explaining the snapshots’ provenance:

I recently developed photographs of people I never met, all shot in the same place in Baghdad, in 2003. The place was a panoramic restaurant on top of Saddam International Tower. I went there a few days after the war started. The tower was intact, but the building at the base had been torn apart by bombs. In a room that must have been the restaurant’s official photographer’s, I found many undeveloped photographic rolls. I took a bunch of them and stuffed them in my pockets. In the photographs you could see all the good Iraqi upper-middle class. Judging by their smiles, the perspective of war was still far away. Yet, if the photographer had not had the time to develop the rolls, the first bombs had to have begun falling soon. Who knows for how many of them, that merry moment might have been the last supper out.

The pictures are gripping. Eerie (when you know the context). Familiar and foreign.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.