Photograph by Eslah Attar, National Geographic
Photograph by Eslah Attar, National Geographic
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When does a shared experience give you an edge?

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

During an interview with the courageous Syrian medic at the heart of an Oscar-nominated documentary, photographer Eslah Attar mentioned that she also spoke Arabic and that her parents were from Syria.

Dr. Amani Ballour’s face lit up. When Ballour discovered that Attar’s parents were from the same southern Syrian town as Ballour’s husband, “she said something like, ‘no way,’ and asked what the family’s name was,” Attar says.

Establishing rapport was critical in the compressed Nat Geo interview this week in New York, hours after Ballour had landed from Paris. Ballour, whose underground hospital outside Damascus saved hundreds of people injured by Russian warplanes and attacks from Syria’s dictator, had been forced to flee from Syria—and was now on an unusual (for her) publicity tour for the Nat Geo-produced documentary film The Cave, up for an Oscar on Sunday night.

Attar felt comfortable with Ballour—and on common ground, even though the photographer was born in the States, not Syria. Attar noticed that Ballour, exhausted, still gave her full attention to her and to reporter Sydney Combs—and spoke about hope for Syrians and for women beyond its borders. “I had seen portraits of her before,” Attar tells my colleague David Beard, “and in my work, I didn’t want to portray her as a sad person, even though she has been through a lot. She herself was so hopeful, and listening to her, I wanted to give more agency to her.”

One of Ballour’s comments has stayed with Attar: “No one necessarily has to inspire you to do good."

After the interview, Attar says she called her parents in northeast Ohio. “My mom said, ‘Wow, she’s only 32 or 33. What have I done with my life?’ I responded that my mom raised five kids and is an Arabic teacher—we all have other talents and skills. ...

“My mom (said), ‘Did you invite her to Ohio to have lunch with us?’ I said, ‘Mom, she’s on her way to the Oscars—I don’t think Ohio is a pit stop."

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Your Instagram photo of the day

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Dance to live: A student of the famous Haitian dancer Vivianne Gauthier trained in 2010 in her gingerbread-style house in Port-au-Prince, the capital. These residences, uniquely designed by Haiti-born architects, are a symbol of the world’s first black republic. The wooden buildings are among the rare structures that survived the 2010 quake that killed hundreds of thousands of Haitians.

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Today in a minute

Deported: Popular wildlife photographer Hazaea "Anwar" Alomaisi, who has lived and worked in the United States for the past 22 years, was deported to war-torn Yemen last week by ICE after a scheduled meeting with immigration officials. The move has prompted outrage by community members and local officials, the Rockland/Westchester Journal-News reports. Alomaisi, 42, described his shock in a call from Yemen, where he is suddenly staying with an old friend because his mom is in a war zone: "I was like one of the happiest guys on the planet, and when they told me they were going to send me back, I feel like someone threw me from the 20th floor to the street.“

Learning about Iran: Photographers Bahman Jalali and Gohar Dashti, featured in a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, give us a poetic insight into their homeland. “Neither confronts death directly,” writes critic Sebastian Smee. “But both address war, displacement and the ringing dissonance of their country’s modern history.”

Not just descriptive: “I seem to revisit a slowed-down reality. ... Slow, quiet and slightly uneasy,” says photographer Nadav Kander, perhaps best known for his portrait of Barack Obama and his work from Chernobyl and along China’s Yangtze River. His comment is from his newest book, The Meeting, a collection of portraits. His subjects range from British artist Tracey Emin to director Alexander McQueen and writer John le Carré.

Overheard at Nat Geo

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The secret life of bees: “It’s part of the pharmacy of the forest,” photographer Ingo Arndt tells National Geographic. He’s talking about a sticky tree secretion that bees gather and use to ward off fungus and bacteria. Arndt carefully built a way inside a tree to photograph wild honeybees as they have never been seen before. In the image above, western honeybees in Germany, with their tubular tongues, slurp up water to carry back to their nest, where it will be used for climate control.

Subscribers can read: From inside a tree, the intimate lives of wild honeybees

The big takeaway

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Sacked: Photographer Katie Orlinsky, covering a sub-Arctic dogsled race, was puzzled when she saw these dogs, each in their own bag, their heads poking through. They were “dropped” from the grueling race, unable to continue. She became fascinated by the exhausted or sick animals, which had trained in brutal weather for this race. "Looking back, perhaps I also felt connected to the dropped dogs," Orlinsky wrote. "I could relate to the idea of having a goal you’d worked toward your whole life, only to have something happen that changes your course."

Read: On Yukon Quest, sled dog race photographer finds calm

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One last glimpse

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Meet the heavens: Photographer Krystle Wright looks back in disbelief as a "mother ship" formation towers above Imperial, Nebraska. Says Nat Geo photographer Keith Ladzinski of his extreme weather crew: "Krystle has been our driver on nearly every chase, fearlessly navigating through nightmarish weather conditions while Nick Moir pores over radar readings and maps, barking orders."

Subscribers can read: When deadly storms arrive, here’s why we run toward danger

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Eslah Attar selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . Thanks for reading!