REVIEWED: The Shattered Lens


The Shattered Lens by Jonathan Alpeyrie and Stash Luczkin (Memoir, October 2017).

While still a somewhat young man, Alpeyrie was already an experienced photographer specializing in documenting various wars around the world when, in 2013 he was kidnapped by a rebel faction in Syria. In fact it was his third trip inside that world-torn country when elements of the Free Syrian Army (considered relative moderates in that confused and brutal civil war) somehow decided he might be a spy. French-born, but having dual US-French citizenship, he found himself a captive of a group that (more or less) was considered friendly. His story of the 89 days he was held forms the majority of this revealing book. He does recount his experiences in other conflicts, both before his capture and since he was freed (as the result of ransom being paid under circumstances as murky as most everything recently connected with Syria).

Alpeyrie’s inside view of the FSA (and the individual fighters he was in daily contact with) is quite interesting and troubling. He came to know several of them quite well–some were sympathetic, others are scheming and self-serving. He provides an excellent picture of how he adapted (in both emotional and psychological terms) to the constant danger of his plight.

His insights into his own attraction to danger, as well as the common nature of soldiers of nations and causes the world over and in particular his views on radical Islam are all compelling. A rich set of photographs from his career add to the book’s fascination (although of course his cameras were taken by his supsicious captors, so no images from those fateful few months are available). Likewise, while focusing on his own experiences, he also touches movingly on the uncertainty and terror his mysterious fate visited upon his family and friends.

This is a valuable book on a subject still very much in the news, with no final resolution in sight. And it provides plenty of insight into the mindset of the wartime journalist/photographer–a decidedly rare occupation–as well to the experience of being a captive, living with nonstop uncertainty and frequent mortal danger.

Regardless of your individual opinion of Syria and geopolitics in general, this is a very worthwhile volume.


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