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“Exquisite photographs” – Publishers Weekly

There’s one line in the Publishers Weekly review of Dining with al-Qaeda — the one about the “exquisite photographs” that made me expecially proud. The reviewers at PW even took the rare step of publishing this image (only viewable in their print edition):

Iranian baseeji volunteer bids farewell to his daughter before leaving for the Iraq war front - Tehran 1985 (Photo: Hugh Pope)

When I first sent the book to the publısher there was no talk of any ıllustratıons or photographs, but I thought I’d go through all those boxes piled high in the cupboard anyway. I’d always enjoyed taking photos, but didn’t have a proper camera when I first decided to head to the Middle East a month after finishing university. I remain grateful to a long-lost Oxford acquaintance, Mark, who conducted me to Mornington Cresent in north London to buy a second-hand 1962 copy of a Leica, the Canon 7S. I still have it and love using it.

As a working journalist, especially for the Independent, a good image really helped to win publication of a story. Also, the need to get that photograph forced me to spend time looking at the characters and situation from new angles. I kept negatives and prints of nearly everything. The only ones that were lost were some of the most dramatic, taken when I hired a plane with some colleagues to get quickly down to the Kurdish refugee emergency of April 1991. I sent them to London by a series of couriers, but the Independent then lost one or more of the negative rolls. Stıll, they had made some prints at the time, and this resulted in three or four grand front page photographs.

In the end I had several thousand photos to go through. I whittled the selection down to the 35 or so that I reckoned best illustrated the themes of Dining with al-Qaeda. The editors at Thomas Dunne really liked them too, so they are now sprinkled through the text. (A couple of splendid prints in the boxes came from then UPI colleague Jack Dabaghian – thanks again to him for giving me permission to use them too). Many didn’t make the final cut, either because they repeated the same idea as other photos or simply because I was shy of making the book any longer. Here are three more that this blog gives me space to share:

An Armenian fez maker stands by his heavy iron moulds in Aleppo, Syria, in 1982. I reckon he must already back then have been one of the last men in the Middle East to produce the traditional Ottoman headgear (Photo: Hugh Pope)

Syrian artillery shells were exploding in the streets outside the last hideout in Tripoli, Lebanon, of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, when this picture was taken in 1983. A few days later he was forced to leave on a chartered Greek Aegean islands ferry. Ironically, the Israelis had forced him to leave Beirut much the same way a year before. (Photo: Hugh Pope)

Line of Iraqi Kurdish refugees pours into Turkey after the collapse of their post-Gulf War rebellion in 1991 (Photo: Hugh Pope)

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