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Iraq's first and only photo agency gets inside view of conflict

Metrography, an Iraqi photo agency, covers the country from the inside.

A blurry shot of an American G.I. landing on the coast of Normandy during World War II. A young girl running down a Vietnamese roadway, her skin burned by napalm. The stark black-and-white portrait of a young machete victim in Rwanda. Good photojournalists don't merely record a crisis — they frame it. They capture its most poignant moments and find its best light. In the process, they put themselves right on the front lines.

Usually, the crisis images you see come from photojournalists working through American and European photo agencies and media companies. But Metrography is the first and only independent photo agency based in Iraq. And it works almost exclusively with photographers based in that country.

It is a small affair: two editors and a core group of nine freelance Iraqi photojournalists who not only take pictures, they help train others in areas of storytelling and editing. On a regular basis, Metrography's photographers capture images that are not only vital, they are striking and beautiful.

Among them: the weary gaze of an armed 14-year-old girl who has survived an ISIS onslaught; the ghostly shadow of a figure inside a refugee tent; an old Yazidi man, his glasses broken, a story of terror etched on his face. There are countless others.

Metrography editor-in-chief Stefano Carini says working with Iraqi photographers means that the agency has a unique view on the conflicts there.

"The Iraqi photographers have unprecedented access to these stories thanks to the cultural knowledge, the historical understanding of the country and, of course, the languages," he states via email from Sulaymaniyah, where Metrography is based. "I believe that this experience gives them a finer level of proximity to the subjects as well as a more profound understanding of their conditions."

It is no surprise that Metrography's pictures have been picked up by NPR and the Washington Post.

Currently, the agency is covering one of the biggest stories to hit Iraq since the war: the refugee crisis generated, in part, by the ongoing expansion of ISIS territories in northern Iraq. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, nearly 2 million people are currently displaced from their homes in Iraq. On top of that, there are a quarter of a million Syrian refugees who have fled the fighting in their own home country. A majority of these refugees have made for the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan, where Metrography is based.

To support this endeavor, the agency has launched a crowd-funding campaign via Byline, a funding platform that helps support journalism projects. The goal is to produce a total of 15 in-depth photo essays (five of which have already been completed) on the ongoing refugee crisis. The agency is already almost halfway to its modest goal of $5,000, with more than a month left to go.

Metrography has helped support the work of talented photographers during a tough period, but, more significantly, it is allowing Iraqis to tell their own stories.

"We are now working with some of the best photographers in the region," writes Carini — photographers who know a thing or two about what it means to suffer the consequences of war.

"Most of the photographers in this project have been refugees themselves," Carini adds, "some of them even twice."

To learn more about Metrography's crowd-funding campaign, visit its project page at Byline.com. Likewise, Roads & Kingdoms has an interesting look at how the agency came together.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.

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