When asked politely, people didn’t mind having their picture taken by a western photographer during that Ashura Day last November in Nabatiye, Lebanon. Actually, most of them seemed rather proud of what they were doing.
This particular man was willing to pose after wiping the blood out of his eyes. He was sitting at the side of the road, right in front of a cafe, where regular non-bloody people were smoking a nargileh while watching the spectacle.
I know how weird this all seems. And we all have our judgements. Slashing your own forehead with a sword isn’t something most of us would do during the holidays. You might even think it’s a wrong thing to do. And people who actually do it, might scare or repulse you. But trust me when I say that this guy is actually a really nice guy. He just holds a belief that I, and presumably most of you, don’t share. And once a year, he does something that is pretty hard to understand. But that’s okay. In my book.
So I decided to try that again this year in Nabatiye, Lebanon. The above image looks rather artsy, but still depicts a shiite muslim man with a serious self-inflicted bloody head wound. I like the detail of the golden chain around his neck.
Here’s another image I shot two weeks ago during the Day of Ashura in Nabatiye (a.k.a. Nabatieh), south Lebanon.
The main reason for visiting the city of Nabatiye is its local Ashura ritual. The practice of self-flagellation can be witnessed throughout the shiite world during Ashura, but in Nabatiye another dimension is added to that fascinating custom. Some, not all, participants slash their foreheads with traditional knives and swords, until they are covered in their own blood. By twelve in the afternoon, the streets are soaked with human blood. Some men faint or become unwell due to excessive blood loss and need medical assistance.
In this image, two paramedics are assisting a man who just regained consciousness after fainting. The stench of blood was heavily in the air, which is why the woman on the left is covering her mouth and nose.
Last year, I posted an image of a young boy self-flagellating, using iron chains, during the Day of Ashura in Iran. A lot of people found that image rather shocking. So I guess most of you will find the image above even more disturbing. Which it is.
The image depicts a young shiite muslim boy during Ashura 2013 (a few days ago) in the city of Nabatieh, Lebanon. The wound on his forehead is self-inflicted.
This particular ritual of self-mutilation is only practiced in a few places in the shiite world. It is frowned upon by many devote muslims. Even Hezbollah condemns it and encourages people to donate blood at a local hospital instead.
Still, last Thursday, I’ve seen mothers and fathers cutting the foreheads of their own children. Although I always try to be as nonjudgmental as I can possibly be, this remains hard to grasp and very unpleasant to watch.
This boy seemed proud to be part of it, though.
1/8000s, f/3.5, ISO 800. Unedited, slightly cropped.
More Ashura images on my website (warning, content is bloody and most likely shocking):
Fresh and unedited, straight from the camera: an image I shot today during the Day of Ashura, in Nabatieh (a.k.a. Nabatiyeh, Nabatiye), south Lebanon. I’ve got loads of stories to tell, but that’ll have to wait, since I’m exhausted.
However, this image and lots of other images are for sale. Take a look at this preview here on my website (small jpegs, RAW available):
A man receiving his tika (Kathmandu, Nepal). Shot on the fifth day of Tihar, Bhai Tika, on which sisters apply a special tika consisting of five colours (red, green, blue, yellow and white) on the forehead of their brother. Those without a sister, like this particular man, come to the temple to receive the tika.
I’ve just booked my flight to Lebanon and will be there between the 11th and 24th of November, covering the Day of Ashura amongst other things. I’m excited. And available for photo assignments in Lebanon during that period.
If you’ve been following me, by now you should have a pretty good idea what Ashura is all about. For newcomers: just go to the main page of this blog and scroll down if you’re interested in more photos and some basic background information on this important day for shiite muslims.
The image above is one of the last images I shot last year, on that cold November day in Bijar, Iran. And I’m glad I pressed the button, because it’s actually one of my favourites. At that same moment, sheep were butchered around us, men covered in mud were self-flagellating and women in black chadors were praying on their knees on the cold concrete. And in the midst of all that, a young boy with eyes full of wonder, protectively held by the strong hands of his father.
To me, this shot captures the humanity of it all. Looking at this image makes me forget about the rest. It’s about love and wonder. About childhood and innocence. About fathers and sons. It reminds me of the first time my late father took me to the beach to watch the sea. A day of wonder that was.
Bet everybody’s getting all excited about upcoming Ashura Day? Or is it just me?
This image was shot last year during the Day of Ashura, in Bijar, Iran. In this particular Iranian town, people cover themselves with mud during the ceremony. This young shia muslim woman is wearing a traditional black chador. She’s mourning the death of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Muhammad, and third shiite imam.
I will be in south Lebanon this November, to cover Ashura 2014. I’m available for assignments.
Here’s another shot I took during my recent stay in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, half an hour drive from the Syrian border.
This young female refugee - who preferred to stay anonymous - was born and raised in Aleppo. She fled war-torn Syria about a year ago and ended up in Gaziantep. She’s working in the kitchen of her family’s restaurant. That’s 100% authentic Syrian food you’re looking at. You bet I stayed for dinner!
Here’s another, more down-to-earth shot I took at the temple of Dakshinkali, Nepal. The temple is dedicated to Kali, the hindu goddess of time, death and doomsday, also called ‘the Dark Mother’ or ‘the Black Goddess’. In spite of her fearful appearance, she’s one of the most popular deities in hinduism.
At the temple, animal sacrifices are offered to Kali. The animals are ritually slaughtered inside the temple. These are the feet of a young boy working at the slaughterhouse.
1/60s, f/2.5, ISO 200.
Lens used: Canon EF 35mm f/2. I bought that lens before I could afford a Canon EF 24-70 2.8L and used it a lot. It’s a cheap and noisy, but overall great lens! I still carry it as a backup lens.