What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from the Cradle of Civilization

Jim Lommasson

What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from the Cradle of Civilization is an ongoing photography and narrative project with Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have fled their homelands because of war. I asked participants to let me photograph the few items they were able carry on their long and dangerous journey to America. These treacherous treks can take years, encompassing refugee camps, multiple countries, and often a few bribes.

The precious objects carried ranged from a family photo, a doll, a Qur'an, a game of dominoes. My agreement with my subjects was that I would photograph the object and then return a 13" x 19" archival photograph to the owner to provide personal reflections by writing directly onto the photograph. Through this process, participants could tell their own stories, in their own language, in their own hand. The stories speak to so much more than the objects. The luminous inner life of these ordinary items are a testament to the unspeakable anguish of a life left forever behind. Ordinary objects become sacred objects. Refugees often flee under the cover of darkness, sometimes with a child under each arm. They bring a few practical items, and some kind of memento to help them hold on to the lives they are leaving behind, possibly forever. As they settle into new lives, in a new land, speaking a new language, these often unremarkable, ordinary items will be the only physical evidence of their former lives... What would you carry? I hope viewers of these collaborative photo/writings will imagine themselves making decisions about what they would gather before forever closing the door on the lives they have lived. The realization that follows next is, what are they be leaving behind? Friends, schools, jobs, language, culture, and history. Very often they must bid farewell to family members they will never again see. Pets, beloved animal companions, must remain behind. What We Carried aims to be a bridge-building project to illustrate our common humanity.