In 2011, Italian photojournalist Linda Dorigo began photographing Christian communities in the Middle East, traveling to cities and tiny villages across the region in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank. Christianity there is diverse, made up of Orthodox Armenians and Assyrians, Coptic Christians in Egypt and others, but Dorigo focused on what her subjects had in common—a strong sense of community and a history that stretches back two millennia, to Christianity’s origin where like today it was practiced in small pockets by religious minorities. Her photos show solemn and joyous ceremonies, small gatherings in ancient spaces and men and women in the arid, vividly Biblical landscape.
Her two and a half year exploration coincided with recent turmoil in the Middle East, which turned many Christians into refugees and significantly reduced their number in the region. Her photos draw connections between current intolerance and the persecution of early Christians—her trip began with the bombing of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. “We wanted to know these millennial communities and give witness to their experience,” Dorigio writes in the introduction to Rifugio, a book made in conjunction with journalist Andrea Milluzzi and published recently by Schilt Publishing. Along the way she crossed paths with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, warring forces in Iraq, chaos in Syria and the growing power of Isis. “The story unfolded before our eyes, right in front of us while we were looking for normality. Wars, old and new, made things difficult for us,” she writes.
Despite the unrest, Dorigo was usually welcomed and stayed with families as she traveled. Her hosts and others she met were “the heirs of the evangelists and the first pilgrims,” she writes. These subjects “are the narrators of this book. They have entrusted [to] us tragic, romantic, and comic stories,” and with them, a view of community that stretches back in time while remaining firmly in the present.
Portraits That Tell Stories: Andrew McConnell’s Photographs of Refugees by Night for PDN subscribers; Log in required)