Syria: a scathingly beautiful photograph of the edge of starvation | Jonathan Jones

From Aid | The Guardian Fri Dec 14 2012, 13:10:21

Artfulness only adds to this picture's stark reality. Here is a sinister new chapter in the war between Assad and his people

This eloquent picture tells of the terrifying hunger crisis now unfolding in war-battered Syria. The children's faces as they reach out their empty pots for food distributed by a Turkish NGO at a camp for internal refugees near the north Syrian city of Azaz are beams of pain and desperation that cut through the fog of news to tell the direct human truth: Syrians are on the edge of starving.

The picture is scathingly beautiful. Does the light that gives these desperate faces such a ruddy glow come from a fire, or truck headlights, or was it provided by the photographer? The way the mysterious illumination picks out frightened eyes and pleading expressions from surrounding darkness is positively painterly. It is like a candlelit scene by Joseph Wright of Derby or Georges de la Tour. The way the children reach out their arms and wave their shiny pots has the dramatic gestural power of Caravaggio's paintings.

But this artfulness only adds to the picture's stark reality. Here is a photograph whose aesthetic authority deepens its shocking news. This brutally poignant picture documents a rapidly unfolding and sinister new chapter in the war between Bashar al-Assad and his own people. On Tuesday, the UN announced that more than half a million Syrian refugees are officially registered - but the UN seems to be behind the curve on accurate figures. Meanwhile western aid is simply invisible in Syria.

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