Mountains, Deserts and Lights

On the road in Kurdistan. Iraq, Oct 2018

The title of this post says it all really. I stayed in Sulaymaniyah for the majority of the month I was in Iraq, but there were a few trips outside the city. One of those was an epic 3-day round trip from Sulaymaniyah to Erbil and Dohuk. There were mountains the entire way, and rain storms, and dust storms, and all kinds of crazy drivers. I have about 962 mountain pictures from that one trip alone, since I was in the passenger seat, with nothing to do but take pictures while Erin drove. I filled a memory card with mountains, roads and dust. Most of my shots were crap, but this handful do a decent job of showing what it felt like to look at all that arid magnificence, from the comfort of an air-conditioned car / restaurant chair / fancy apartment complex.

I’ve spent my life in very flat places (Western Australia and Singapore), so I can’t look at a mountain without feeling a bit overwhelmed. I’ve seen a few of them over the years, mainly in the USA. Wherever the mountain though, being faced with its scale always feels monumental. It was quite something to be in Sulaymaniyah – a city flanked by two ranges – and watch the light draw those peaks and ridges differently across the day.

My very first trip outside the city. I never made any successful pictures of it, but behind this range were the enormous mountains that are also the Iranian border. Kurdistan, Iraq Sep 2018
One of the most epic sights I’ve ever seen: a dust storm devouring the desert as we sped along the highway from Dohuk to Sulaymaniyah. Erin, journeys are always legendary when you’re at the wheel! For scale: those little pixels on the horizon are trucks. Iraq, Oct 2018
Somewhere on the road from Erbil to Dohuk. Iraq, Oct 2018
Storm over Sulaymaniyah. There was approximately 5 minutes of rain, which cleared the air of dust… and deposited it on the cars in the city. Iraqi Kurdistan, October 2018
Coming into Sulaymaniyah. Kurdistan, Iraq, Sep 2018
The city in the mountains – Sulaymaniyah from the base of the Grand Millenium Hotel. Iraq, Sep 2018
The mountains of Sulaymaniyah from the base of the Grand Millenium Hotel. Iraq, Sep 2018


  1. Mark says:

    I am deeply impressed, you shot amazing photographs in your trip. Thank you very much for showing this.

    1. Charlene says:

      Thanks Mark. Ha, you got in just as I was going to close the comments. Guess I gotta leave them open now ;)

  2. Peter says:

    Hi, Charlene,

    thanks for these impressions and also for the texts about a region that has it anything but easy. I was never in Iraq, but a few times in Syria and Jordan, once even in the border region with Iraq. But that was in a better time before the last war and its consequences. That makes it all the more important that there are people who ensure that this region is not forgotten. Even though I suspect that you really did get to know hard fates in your work with Preemptive Love. Thanks again for that and really impressive pictures!


    1. Charlene says:

      Those sound like very different times for sure Peter. PLC have been in Iraq for a decade now. They’re a steadfast organization doing great work, and it was an eye opening to be able to spend some time with them. Thank you for dropping by :)

  3. Phil McGinnis says:

    As always Charlene, inspiring images, you make me see my deficiencies in my everyday seeing, thanks for creating what you do… like I said, inspiring…

    1. Charlene says:

      Thank you Phil. I struggle with seeing the everyday myself (I’m sure I’ve gone on about it at length here before), but we gotta keep shooting. It’s what we do right?

  4. walker says:

    wonderful CW, moreover I feel somwhow at home ;)

    please, do not close the comments

    1. Charlene says:

      Yes, it’s your kind of terrain isn’t it? :) Albeit somewhat browner than the mountains where you come from :)

      I’m still thinking about the comments thing. I’ll think some more.

  5. Grandad says:

    The light over the mountains in Storm over Sulaymaniyah is mesmerizing and familiar. Well done. I watched a sand storm that came with a front that produced rain which fell in the form of mud falling out of the sky. Over the next three days we got 20 inches of wet, sloppy, melting-as-it-falls snow. All of this during my first year in Jordan. So much fun. Bummer that I was at work and had no camera, not even a smartphone.
    You definitely have your groove back. Started following you mainly because of the Denmark work you posted.
    Delicious light.
    Be safe out there.


    1. Charlene says:

      Grandad! :) Yeah I thought it was worth reposting this on the blog. Instagram’s just so small. I can’t quite imagine what raining mud is like, although I have no doubt I’ll get to see it for myself at some point. I’m off to Denmark again as I write this post, so more Danish images are coming!

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