Photojournalist Shares His Experience of Documenting the War on ISIS

In a six-minute video with Vice, news photographer Felipe Dana recounts his experiences of documenting the War on ISIS and shows photos that illustrate the complex emotions felt by the affected communities.

Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Felipe Dana is an award-winning photojournalist who works for the Associated Press and has dedicated his career to recording international news events, including cruelty and pain inflicted upon communities across the world, starting with his own homeland where he began his photographic work.

From gang violence and crime in Rio de Janeiro — which was further exacerbated by the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics held in the city — to the Middle East, Dana has traveled all over the world to photograph dangerous conflicts where he regularly puts himself in high-risk environments, including the War on The Islamic State (ISIS) which resulted in thousands of casualties and destroyed numerous cities in the region.

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In 2016, Dana encountered a moment where during a counter-attack in Mosul, an important and strategic location for ISIS, a suicide car bomb exploded near him and another photographer on the field that day, completely destroying his colleague’s photographic equipment.

Lucky to not be harmed, Dana had instinctively reached for his camera to capture the moment below, with debris and rocks still flying in the air and falling on him and on the camera he was holding. Without hesitation, after he heard the explosion, he pointed the camera at the site because it was like an in-built reflex, he explains.

Dana’s instincts despite high-risk situations have allowed him to document history unfolding even when his own safety was in jeopardy. In the image below, Dana photographed communities being evacuated in Syria, which is where the largest operation against ISIS concluded.

Many evacuated locals still supported ISIS and were aggressive to the forces liberating the territory, which was a situation in stark contrast to the fleeing migrants of other conflicts that Dana had encountered in his career, who would generally seek and willingly accept help.

Although an objective observer documenting events, Dana’s work also respectfully displays a sense of humanity, as can be seen in the image of a boy on a bicycle, below. At the end of the military operation in a destroyed and rubble-filled city, Dana’s attention was caught by a car that had ended up on top of a building, potentially due to an explosion.

As Dana was capturing this photo — a situation which he describes as surreal — unexpectedly, a local boy emerged and passed through on his bike, a regular occurrence for anywhere else in the world but definitely a surprising moment to find in such a devastated neighborhood, where not all innocent civilians chose or had the choice to flee elsewhere.

You can see more of Dana’s impactful work during this conflict, and others, on his website or on his Instagram.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.