“A cry for mercy: A snapshot of Aleppo during Syria’s uprising” – Critique

By Noor Anis Adila Omar

Article by Manu Brabo, Al Jazeera

Manu Brabo, an award-winning Spanish photojournalist, tells a human-interest story about the photograph he took in Aleppo during Syria’s uprising in 2012. This story was written in a narrative style about his real-time experiences capturing heartbreaking moments in Aleppo. 

Brabo has created an attention-grabbing headline leaving the readers to ponder why the headline has been mentioned in that way. It leads the readers to ask themselves about what happened in Aleppo and why it says “A cry for mercy”. The headline intrigues the readers to discover more about the stories behind that through a single snapshot in Aleppo. 

Brabo also seems to have applied the modified inverted pyramid techniques; instead of telling a story based on the chronological order. He created a sense of drama that conveyed tension and conflict about the uprising in Syria. Using this technique, he organised it by putting into the logical fashion what happened in Syria.

The background of the uprising in Syria was placed high in the story giving the readers a sense of urgency and to attract their interest. The lead sentence was conveyed to pique reader’s curiosity about what happened next during that event.

The lead excerpt reads:

“It was October 3, 2012, in the second year of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s government. Despite the efforts of the Syrian Armed Forces, the regime was losing control of vast areas of territory to the several armed groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).”

Furthermore, Brabo also exerts his skilful observation describing vivid pictures of the setting in Aleppo and the people’s traits. This “showing rather than telling” approach leaves the readers to visualise the scene through the author’s experiences in Aleppo. 

“The first and second floors were for the staff, and beyond that, the floors above had been destroyed by the shrapnel of countless air strikes trying to target the place.”

“That morning, at around 6am, three young members of the FSA came to our apartment looking for us. “Time to go,” said one of the barely bearded fighters.” 

“A few minutes later, another man walked in, this one younger, cleaner and leaner. He was extremely agitated, nervous, tense – barely able to hold back his tears.”

Besides, the author did not leave the readers to make their assumptions as it conveyed comprehensive information about the surrounding.

Not only that, his skilful writing managed to provoke readers’ emotions with a sense of empathy for the subject. The author conveys the message through intensive descriptions of the event in the hospital to evoke readers’ emotion about the value of humanity. The excerpt reads: 

“The door of the ER opened, and the sharp sound of wailing arrived with it –  cries, screams of anger and resentment. The man’s son had died. He walked out, with tears of sadness, powerlessness, and disbelief distorting his face. He carried his son in his arms – in the same way he had many times before when taking him to bed – crossing the hall towards the front door, where he crumbled.”

The paragraph above also reached its peak of suspense trying to hook reader’s interest to continue reading throughout the story. Besides, this approach prevents reader’s interest in the article from fading. 

The author seems to exclude the quotation approach in the article, and only a few can be depicted in the article to support the flow of the story. The exclusion of direct quotation might lose its value and meaning of the story. However, the author managed to convey the foreshadowing technique by explaining the situation in the hospital. This method is vital to maintain the flow of the story and keeps readers anticipating to read further on the conditions. 

“Surrounded by doctors and nurses, the two got lost down the hall that led to the rudimentary emergency room. The door closed behind them, and the screams became silence. I kept chatting with one of the volunteers. A few minutes later, another man walked in, this one younger, cleaner and leaner. He was extremely agitated, nervous, tense – barely able to hold back his tears.

“That’s the dad,” the volunteer I was chatting to, told me.”

Not to mention, Brabo not merely told the story behind a photo taken, but he reflected the event and included the virtue behind a snapshot he took during Syria’s uprising of Aleppo in the end.

“But unfortunately, as time has gone by, that photo has been transformed into a mere object with other meanings, neither good nor bad, but quite apart from what it originally was.”

Throughout the story, the writer applies block writing in which the topics are written in continuous paragraphs as it allows readers to understand the flow of his experiences capturing a photograph in Aleppo.

Indeed, the writer successfully conveyed the story with a straightforward explanation and comprehensive descriptions through his excellent observation during the event as if the story unfolds naturally until the end.

Overall, the writer managed to execute the principles of feature writing, approaching the readers with emotions to arouse their sense of awareness and empathy on the issue.***

(This article is written as part of individual assignment series for Feature Writing class)

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