What makes the photo ambiguous at first is the power of the sky and those rays of sun piercing the darkness. That, and these statuesque gestures (or, in the woman’s case, an almost ritual-looking one) imbue the photo of these poetic silhouettes with an etherial quality — man’s appeal to the heavens.
Once the meaning becomes clear, though — that these Syrians in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan are searching for cell phone signals — that effort acquires a classical meaning. So much so, it places these devices, and their utility, onto the same plane as faith and spirituality.
What I’m not able to tell , however, is if Nachtwey is being ironic or he’s serious about the depth and profundity of wireless.
From the slideshow “Syrian Refugees” at TIME Lightbox.
(Update 11:55pm. I just learned that James Nachtwey was shot in the leg today in Thailand. Apparently he is okay. The fact this post was written the night before is an odd coincidence. I know I speak for everyone who reads this site in wishing James well.)
(photo: James Nachtwey for TIME. caption: December 2013. Residents of the camp search for a clear cell-phone signal to call Syria.)