The Most Important Picture

The Most Important Picture: Syrian Refugees Telling Their Own Story

Brendan Bannon, 2015 Winner

To be administered by Brendan Bannon to buy gear to support the continued photo work of two Syrian refugee teenagers, Fatima and Hany, who have been his photo students and who have begun documenting the lives of Syrians in refugee camps.

This picture is the only way i can tell the whole world: "i don't ask for anyone to have mercy on me or take care of me. I only ask you to look at this picture, which shows my reality and tells the story of my life. A life which became full of funeral shrouds and grief." The Kaaba is Black. Nothing compares to it's beauty, but this coffin is white and nothing compares to its ugliness. After so many crises in life, and the ones wrapped in white, during my dreams I can only see my son shrouded in in white.

Absence From the Family. He is the grandfather of this family. He was the one who produced hope for the family. After the crisis he became a stranger, even to himself.

Absence of Joy

Farah is a child who was abandoned by joy at the peak of her childhood. Shyness visited her because of handicap.


My Child's Smile. I wish this smile were always on his face, so that my heart continues to beat.

This is the most important picture to me because it is for my husband who was killed. "You are the cause of all crises. You are everything in my life. I have to see you even if you are far from me. Inside of me there is a picture no one but I can see, a fire burning my heart a hundred times. I can't tolerate its flame anymore. I have no choice but to picture my agony and transform it into a little picture the whole world can see." She also wrote "Fire burned my husband and now it wants to burn me. This crisis and pain I have endured. This anguish didn't want to have mercy on me. It burned my husband. Oh I hear his voice in pain and in my dreams. Only fire. It wants to burn me and eat my body, so my soul could embrace his soul.”


Human claws want to rip out my eyes.

A simple dream of mine. You wouldn't imagine, I only dream of owning a home, even a small one and taking care of all of its needs.

Birds express the children, because children dream of freedom like birds. Children imitate the bird’s rebellion.

I was praying to god to spread tranquility and calm to my children. to hold their feet still. I'd like to see results in their future even if they don't see me.

Yes, our life is hard and filled with difficulty. We are in an unbearable crisis. Despite that we still exercise and build skills for sports. We will improve ourselves. We will run, climb fences, lift weights, play football and ride the bikes that no one cares for. We will even pull rope. We won't give up. We will prove to the world that we are still children, adults and old men. We are Syrian refugees.

We are in an unbearable crisis. Despite that we still exercise and build skills for sports. We will improve ourselves. We will run, climb fences, lift weights, play football, ride bikes that no one cares for. We will even pull rope. We won't give up. We will prove to the world that we are still children, adults and old men. We are Syrian refugees.

Despite his old age he has a boiling volcano in his heart.

Yes, our life is hard and filled with difficulty. We are in an unbearable crisis. Despite that we still exercise and build skills for sports. We will improve ourselves. We will run, climb fences, lift weights, play football, ride bikes that no one cares for. We will even pull rope. We won't give up. We will prove to the world that we are still children, adults and old men. We are Syrian refugees.

A Tearful Laugh.

It was simultaneously funny and sad when I asked my mom: “Why did you bring the house keys with you?” And without an answer everyone began to laugh, because these keys are useless. They are the keys to a house that is almost completely destroyed. My mom’s laugh quickly turned into tears that paved their path onto her cheeks and silenced the sound of that brilliant laugh… I also cried after that scene.

“Think about others. Don’t forget the people of the tents.”


-Mahmoud Darwish


A different kind of life.

I always try to look and listen to the camp from a distance, from a high point, as if I’m an orchestra conductor. I stand for a long time, listening to those tunes… To those amazing musical pieces that carry the sounds of children crying… parents’ anger… laughter… kitchen utensils… food… birds nearby… wood being broken… The musical pieces end with the beginning of the night.

I, too, am like these caged birds, but they are in a cage, while my chain is the present moment. I no longer know who I am in front of these birds.

This woman told me that she burns on the inside every time she remembers the past in her country… Or when she compares herself before and after coming here… I too can feel that heat every time I look at this picture.


Even the refugee dog is cared for with his own broken tent.

If you want to be a good photographer, you have to deal with light well, and that’s what I tried to do in the picture… And you also have to show people what you want from a picture…

Every time I look at her while she is hanging the laundry, I realize that she is washing my soul with the water of tenderness.


The fence and the people are woven together into one fabric. Fences are the fabric of our lives.

My little brother Ashraf standing on a barrel in that camp. He dances like the angels. He spreads joy everywhere and yet this might not be Ashraf. Maybe Ashraf is just one who is meant to be a child with all his simple rights intact.

Pain... Missing...Distance...Adoration...Beauty... Tents...Cold... Hunger...Identity...A Student...An Actor...A Dancer...A Photographer...A City...A Country...A Question...An Exit...No Answer...Hope...A Future...Loss...A Writer...Being away from home...Society...Routine...Return...And a right...Do you hear what my hand is screaming?

Photographer's Statement: 

NOTE: Photographer Brendan Bannon submitted a 2015 Aftermath Project grant proposal to continue working with two young Syrian refugees whom he’d met and introduced to photography during workshops in their camps. Although Bannon didn’t win the grant, the judges voted a special discretionary grant of $2,500 to be used by Bannon to buy gear for Hany and Fatima, to support their work as photographers. This is Bannon’s slightly edited proposal:


“I believe in the idea that we should be able to convey our pain to the rest of the world so that they can see it, feel it and understand it. When I took a picture of my children and my brother in laws children with the pictures of the fathers they lost on their faces, I was not only speaking of my family. I was speaking about those living in substandard conditions. Those trapped in Syria, the refugees in Lebanon. I was speaking about their loss and needs.”

-Fatima  age 19. Mother of three, war widow, Syrian refugee, photographer.


In the Fall of 2014 I taught a series of workshops to Syrian refugee youth in Jordan and Lebanon. Two students distinguished themselves with a passion for telling the stories of their exile. These stories reveal the great effort that it takes to move forward in life after losing or leaving behind everything that gave life its shape and meaning.

Fatima, a 19-year-old war-widowed single mother of three children, lives in a pre-fab metal container in Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan. She was employed as a cleaner in the NGO compound where the workshop took place and asked to be included in the two-week course. She excelled photographing a series of dreamscapes that stunned her classmates into a reverent silence and then an awed applause. Judged by her fellow refugees, her work articulated a common trauma and a resolve to address that trauma through photography and writing.

In Lebanon I worked with Hani, a 20-year-old refugee from Homs, Syria, who had planned to study at the Sorbonne on a scholarship before the war changed his life. When I met Hani, he was living in in a tented settlement in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon with his parents and four siblings. In the camp, he taught theater to children. He is also a student of literature. Both influences are evident in his picture making and storytelling. Hani has since emigrated to Canada with his family and is currently enrolled as a computer science student.

Fatima and Hani are storytellers who plan to use photography and writing to address the plight of fellow refugees while also telling their own stories and addressing the trauma of dislocation and loss.

They spent the years of their youth preparing for a life that can’t exist as it was planned. Hani prepared as a student, a scholar, a poet and an engineer.

Fatima was a wife and a mother raising her children. But her husband was killed and she is now raising her children alone as head of the family. Hani and Fatima are the first of what some are calling Syria’s Lost Generation, but they refuse the label.


Brendan Bannon
brendan.bannon's picture

Brendan Bannon is a photographer and teacher based between New York and Nairobi, Kenya.

Bannon's work has appeared in The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Telegraph, the Independent, the Guardian, Monocle Magazine, KWANI?,  and other international publications.

His projects have been exhibited internationally at UN headquarters in New York, at Chautauqua Institution's VACI galleries, The Burchfield Penney Museum and the Quick Center for the Arts.

The Most Important Picture Lesson Plan

The Most Important Picture

Brendan Bannon is a photographer and teacher who facilitates workshops with youth in refugee camps. These workshops are an opportunity for students to express their lives as they contend with loss, trauma and dislocation through the use of photography and writing. In 2014 Bannon taught a course to Syrian youth in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan and among his students, two in particular stood out as photographers and as storytellers: Fatima Ahmed, a 19-year-old war widow and mother of three, who lived in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan; and Hani Al Moulia, a 20-year-old refugee from Syria who lived in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon with his parents and four siblings. Prior to the outbreak of war in Syria, he planned to go to the Sorbonne in Paris; he has since emigrated to Canada, where he was named a member of the

Prime Minister’s Youth Council in 2016.


In 2015 Bannon received a small grant from The Aftermath Project to further support Hani and Fatima’s visual storytelling work as part of Bannon’s “The Most Important Picture: Syria.” In these lessons students will:

●      Learn the overall context of the Syrian refugee crisis;

●      Deepen their understanding by analyzing and discussing the insightful photographs of Fatima and Hani;

●      And consider Brendan Bannon’s workshop methodology and use of photography as a process to support youth currently living, and surviving, in refugee camps.


Guiding questions framing “The Most Important Picture” lessons include:

●      How can photographs tell stories?

●      What role can visual storytelling play in addressing experiences of dislocation, grief and loss?

Download the lesson plan ( English | Arabic )