Updated: Saturday, 7th December 2019 @ 1:02pm

From Manchester to Iraq: Mancorialist photographer swops style on the street for war-torn Middle East

From Manchester to Iraq: Mancorialist photographer swops style on the street for war-torn Middle East

| By Katie Moore – MM exclusive

When a photographer feels they have run out of stories to tell, the only real option they have is to go somewhere new.

After capturing the spirit – and style – of Manchester for website The Mancorialist, 29-year-old Jacob Russell now finds himself living and working in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

To the dismay of his family, he left his secure job and safe home, choosing instead to pay heed to nagging desire to travel and work abroad.

“Of course I had some doubts,” admitted Mr Russell, originally from Peterborough. “But I had done enough research to know that Iraqi Kurdistan is a lot safer than the rest of the country.”

He spent several months in Kurdistan at the beginning of last year, working with fellow photographer Sebastian Meyer who had set up a photo agency.

By June, he had decided to move there more permanently, leaving the city he had lived in for eight years.

“There are many stories to be told from this part of the world,” said Mr Russell. “Many of them are unhappy, so it's put certain things into a different perspective.”

It is difficult to pave such a career in Iraq, where visas for travel outside the country are hard to get hold of and freelance fees from the press are low.

MELTING POT: A bodyguard stands outside a polling station in Sulaimaniyah while Nawshiran Mustafa, leader of the Gorran party, arrives to vote

Mr Russell also believes there is a tendency for international outfits not to take him and his peers as seriously as they should.

“I've met a lot of photographers here who remain enthusiastic and committed, despite so many professional hurdles,” he said. “Meeting those photographers is often inspirational and makes it harder to moan about your own situation.”

In addition to the inherent dangers of living there, one of the most striking differences is the diminished healthcare system and unreliability of the state.

For example, while in the UK we know we can get help from hospitals or police when we need them, Iraq’s situation is far more unstable.

“Here people don't know what kind of reaction they'll get,” said Mr Russell. “So much depends on who they know or how much money they have. 

“Having a UK passport insulates you from that a bit, but it's still very evident.”

DEMOCRACY: Dr Barham Salih, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, votes in parliamentary elections at a polling station in Sulaimaniyah

His most fascinating and revealing pictures were taken during the parliamentary elections in Kurdistan in September.

The images show an element of hostility, with people searched before being allowed to vote and senior leaders hounded by the media.

A host of these can be seen on his own website – http://jacobrussell.virb.com.

Mr Russell cannot praise highly enough the ‘incredible hospitality’ of the Kurdish people, joking that you have to fight to leave when you’ve been staying with somebody.

RIGHT TO VOTE: A police officer checks lists of people registered to vote in parliamentary elections, outside a polling station in Sulaimaniyah

“And being a photographer is a really good excuse to get into the situations and places and meet the people you want to,” he said.

But there must be something he misses about Manchester?

“Friends, pints, the Cornerhouse.  Weirdly there's a takeaway on Bloom Street that does a falafel sandwich better than any I've had here – I find myself missing that sometimes!”

Pictures courtesy of Jacob Russell, with thanks.