Texting Syria

9 Jan 2017 2016 CONTAINER

Thirty minutes from the Syria–Lebanon border, 16 families seeking refuge from ongoing conflict in Homs, Syria, live in tents erected inside an abandoned slaughterhouse; at night, they text friends and family still under siege.

Featuring: Liam Maloney (with coding by Daniel Arce)

Presented by
Open Society Documentary Photography Project & United Photo Industries



Texting Syria is an installation exploring the experience of Syrian refugees in the context of connectivity in the digital age. In these portraits, Syrians in Lebanon fleeing the civil war back home use mobile phones to stay in touch with their families who remain under siege in the city of Homs. A mundane and ubiquitous act — checking or sending a text message — is transformed by war into communiqués that can be a matter of life and death.

Viewers are invited to connect to a remote SMS server that streams — directly to the viewer’s phone — a series of actual text messages that were received at the time the photographs were taken. In these messages, we get a glimpse of how technology can help people sustain their courage and dignity while caught in a horrific war.

My goal is to create an immersive experience that offers viewers a degree of intimacy often missing from media coverage of this enduring international crisis, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people to date and displaced millions. My work aims to question the expectations we have of documentary photography and considers parallel narratives that images alone cannot adequately represent.

Texting Syria is part of a larger ongoing body of work titled Material Remains, a multilayered interactive project about the plight of Syrian refugees and the traces that war leaves behind. Incorporating thermal imaging portraits, SMS messaging, lightboxes, video projections and audio narratives, Material Remains examines the Syrian conflict in ways that move beyond conventional methods of examining war. It is an attempt to compile a multi-sensory body of irrefutable evidence that archives the experiences of those who have lost everything in the Syrian war.


Liam Maloney (Canadian, b. 1975) is a Toronto-based documentary photographer working on stories about conflict and forced migration from the Middle East. Central themes in his work are the idea of home and its significance for those who have been displaced, as well as the intersection of technology and intimacy during wartime.

His work has been commissioned and published by The Globe and Mail, TIME magazine, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, CBC, Mother Jones, La Maleta de Portbou, Maclean’s and many others. Maloney’s work has been exhibited at Images: Festival des Arts Visuels de Vevey (Switzerland), Nuit Blanche (Toronto), Moving Walls 23 (New York) and Le Mois de la Photo (Montreal), where his installation won the Dazibao Prize.

Maloney was shortlisted for the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize (2014) and the Lucie Foundation Scholarship Program (2015). He has recently been nominated for the Tim Hetherington Visionary Award and Le Prix Pictet (2016). Previously, he was a nominee for the Joop Swart Masterclass and participated in the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2007. He holds a RISC certificate in battlefield medical response and is a member of the Frontline Freelance Network.


This exhibition is supported by the Open Society Documentary Photography Project. Through grants and exhibitions, we seek to advance socially engaged photography and its potential to drive change. We value ambitious work that reflects an ongoing commitment to depth and nuance, a plurality of perspectives and approaches, and photographers who use their work to strategically trigger critical thought, dialogue, and action.

Moving Walls is our exhibition series that features photography on human rights and social justice issues. We provide a platform for global practitioners who are expanding the visual language of documentary photography in compelling ways.

Images from Texting Syria, the body of work on display in this container, is featured in the Moving Walls 23 exhibition which is free and open to the public at Open Society Foundations—New York through September 30, 2016.