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Seeing Virginia With New Eyes

A photographer who’s recently moved to Rockingham County hopes his newcomer’s perspective can show others what life through a refugee’s eyes looks like here.

Husam Abdulazeez is originally from Iraq, and lived in Syria before moving to the United States.  As WMRA's Andrew Jenner reports, like any good shutterbug, he always keeps his camera handy.

HUSAM ABDULAZEEZ: If I see something that is very interesting or important or beautiful, I will take a picture.

Abdulazeez has been taking pictures for years, but he’s only been doing it here for a little less than one.

ABDULAZEEZ: This picture is around Harrisonburg. I saw this is very beautiful. I like this picture because I feel the sky is very close to this field.

He’s describing a picture of a cornfield, with the tassels silhouetted against a stunning, dark cloud. It’s one of his photographs that will be on display at James Madison University for the next two months. The exhibit, which opens today, is called “How I See: A Refugee’s Experience of Harrisonburg.” Abdulazeez’s attention is drawn to everyday things, like cornfields, that many of us pay little mind.

ABDULAZEEZ: Maybe the other people don’t care or don’t notice that, so when I see it is beautiful for me, I take a picture and I show the people how I see.

Other photos are of things like stoplights – something I usually find more aggravating than inspiring.

ABDULAZEEZ: Yes, exactly, we have something like that even in Syria and Iraq, but the problem is nobody uses it. Sometimes we don’t have the electric so it doesn’t work.

And sometimes they’ve been destroyed in some sort of fighting. The fact that our stoplights work, and have little cameras on them are supposed to make them work even better…

ABDULAZEEZ: This is new for me. It is very beautiful because it is still working here.

Abdulazeez has never been a professional photographer. He works as a housekeeping supervisor at Massanutten Resort. Since moving here from far, far away, he’s constantly learning new things from people. Through his photographs, he hopes other people can learn new things from him about the community all of us share.

The exhibit is in Roop Hall, Suite 208, at James Madison University. It’s sponsored by the university’s Institute of Visual Studies and its Center for International Stabilization and Recovery. Abdulazeez’s work has previously been exhibited in New York City and at the Harrisonburg International Festival.

Andrew Jenner is a freelance reporter based in Harrisonburg. After working as a journalist in the Shenandoah Valley for a decade, he spent three years living and reporting in Brazil, returning to Harrisonburg in the summer of 2018. Andrew has reported for TheAtlantic.com, The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle, Discover, Modern Farmer, and many others. He is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University, has a MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Goucher College, and almost made it onto Jeopardy! a few years ago.