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February 1, 2014

Communications from Above

What makes the photo ambiguous at first is the power of the sky and those rays of sun piercing the darkness. That, and these statuesque gestures (or, in the woman’s case, an almost ritual-looking one)  imbue the photo of these poetic silhouettes with an etherial quality — man’s appeal to the heavens.

Once the meaning becomes clear, though — that these Syrians in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan are searching for cell phone signals — that effort acquires a classical meaning. So much so, it places these devices, and their utility, onto the same plane as faith and spirituality.

What I’m not able to tell , however, is if Nachtwey is being ironic or he’s serious about the depth and profundity of wireless.

From the slideshow “Syrian Refugees” at TIME Lightbox.

(Update 11:55pm. I just learned that James Nachtwey was shot in the leg today in Thailand. Apparently he is okay. The fact this post was written the night before is an odd coincidence. I know I speak for everyone who reads this site in wishing James well.)

(photo: James Nachtwey for TIME. caption: December 2013. Residents of the camp search for a clear cell-phone signal to call Syria.)

  • bks3bks

    Almost a great photograph. If only the fact that they were trying to find a cell signal was revealed by the picture and not by the caption. BTW, does it really help to hold it over your head?

  • black_dog_barking

    To simply and starkly observe these tiny devices capable of bringing familiar voices to us wherever we are likely to be in this world is to gaze upon a form of magic. Even if we accept that the voice coming from our pocket-sized phone is the product of modulated and then de-modulated wave energies it has to reinforce to us that as the late Mr Vonnegut so aptly wrote: “Science is magic that works.”

  • psychohistorian

    The first thought that came to my mind was that this was a picture of folks holding up radioactivity monitors, because that is what I think is one of the more pressing global issues we should be talking about, IMO

    But alas it represents the pleas for “connection” that those who are fleeing oppression are making these days.

  • stevelaudig

    My first take on this photo is that the guy on the right is giving the finger to the heavens.

    • Scarabus

      I had the same thought!

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