Photographing the rise and fall of Isil: the human cost of war through the eyes of Telegraph's Sam Tarling

Elise Johnson
Civilians fleeing from Isil's last remaining territory in Syria arrive at a gathering point before being taken to an internment camp, near Baghuz, in north eastern Syria, on March 6, 2019. - The Telegraph

“It was a kind of underwhelming if I’m honest,” chuckles Sam Tarling as he attempts to describe how it felt to watch the fall of Isil a month ago.

“I know it sounds strange,” he says. “But the whole thing went out with a whimper, rather than a bang. Imagine, the once huge entity, that had threatened the world had been reduced to this tiny little thing. It wasn’t a grand finale.”

Tarling is a war photographer for The Telegraph and has documented the rise and fall of Isil, from the terror group’s capture of Mosul in 2014 to its final capitulation in Syria earlier this year. 

The videos in this article are Tarling's description of what was running through his mind as he took each shot. 

An Iraqi Federal Policeman takes a moment of peace from the relentless sun

Despite Tarling’s intense work, and seeing some of the darkest moments of humanity, he manages to remain optimistic, often seizing upon opportunities to laugh or see the positive moment in the grimmest of places.

However, the years covering such human suffering are evident. Tarling's voice often drops as he discusses some of the tragedies he has seen. He pauses, sometimes trailing off during descriptions.

Nour Younes cries out as her two-year-old son dies in a Mosul field clinic

He admits: “It hasn’t always been easy. There are times when it has been more difficult than others. This day in Mosul at this clinic, families were coming in carrying kids that died. That is really tough. That can take a while to bounce back from.”

After a pause, Tarling quickly caveats his brief moment of admitting the toll the war had taken on him by saying: “But you’ve got to think about the people who did bring their kids there. They’ve got no time to recuperate. If it’s tough for us, it is much tougher for them.”

Civilians fleeing Baghuz in Syria, where Isil were making their last stand

Tarling enjoys sitting in the back of a van as he journeys through Iraq

Tarling’s photography ensures that the plight of some of the most vulnerable people in the world is highlighted and that the full cost of wars and terrorism is laid bare to the public. It is difficult to know the true impact of a photo, but Tarling hopes that by documenting the plight of these people, the gravity of the conflict is understood across the world.

Follow Sam Tarling on Instagram.