Bashir al Assad, Damascus, Syria

Travelling in Syria in 2009, I was struck by the number of pictures of Bashir al-Assad in public places. I had not seen any despot try so desperately to portray himself in so many roles
Syria was an orderly place, Syrians were quiet, polite, and helpful. My wife, who grew up in the Soviet Union, said it reminded her of the 1980s there, as did the Russian we heard on the street, the legacy of Syria’s ties to the Soviets. “These people are happy to see us because we are proof that there is another way of living,” she said, “–a better world, somewhere else.”
We saw Bashir posed as the son of his famous father, as a military hard man, as the teenage heart-throb, and as a western businessman. There was a hap-hazard quality to the experience, as if the propagandists didn’t expect you to have seen some other Bashir in the last block. Sometimes the juxtapositions, especially with things for sale, were ridiculous, like the sequined bodice and Bashir. Just as I got inspired to take this series, a security policeman appeared out of nowhere. He shook his head and pushed his palms downward: “I take camera,” he said, “ Stop. I take camera.” It was as if he was ashamed by the absurdity of the pictures.

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