The woman documenting the 'Humans of Damascus'

Rania Kataf, a 31-year-old Damascus resident, started the "Humans of Damascus" Facebook page a couple of months ago.

Story highlights

  • Inspired by "Humans of New York," photographer Rania Kataf set up "Humans of Damascus"
  • The series showcases a city mostly removed from the violence ravaging other parts of Syria

(CNN)In Syria, a war is flattening eastern Aleppo. There are destroyed minarets, a burnt down 14th century souq, a number of perished neighborhoods and thousands of casualties.

In Syria, there are also bustling alleyways in the old neighborhoods of Damascus, a musician playing the oud on the pavement and, nearby, an artisan ornamenting a carved wooden table with ivory. It's this side of the country that 31-year-old Damascus resident Rania Kataf wants to show to the world.
    She strolls with her camera in the streets of the Syrian capital, trying to document every inch of her city and the faces of the people who give it so much character.
    Maamoun Hussein Al Masri, photographed by Humans of Damascus, owns a small shop near the famous Al Nofara Cafe and sells wooden ouds.
    Inspired by the "Humans of New York" Facebook page, she set up "Humans of Damascus" to showcase a city mostly removed from the violence ravaging other parts of the country.
    Every day, she posts portraits of residents in the market and adds new and old pictures of the Damascenes' favorite shops and spots. She says it's one way of reminding people of the city's rich history and culture.
    "I stay away from anything negative. I have a responsibility towards the people of Damascus. Many of them are not appreciated. The artisans, for example, are seen as some wooden spoon makers inside the country and potential refugees outside the country," she told CNN over Skype.
    Ali Othman, a weaver photographed by Humans of Damascus, reconstructs carpets in the city.
    Her favorite portrait is that of Abu Jassem Kabtoul, who she says is over a century old.
    "This man lived for more than 100 years in Damascus and knows it probably more than all of us. He surely knows what are the solutions to all our problems," she said.
    Abu Jassem Kabtoul is more than 100 years old, according to Rania Kataf.
    Kataf, who studied food science, took up photography as a hobby a few years ago.
    She doesn't like to be labeled as a photographer, but rather a "documenter" of the city's people and artifacts.
    "In Syria, if you say you are a photographer, people think you photograph wedding parties and set up photo shoots, and I hate that".
    Kataf says she has a photography permit from the Syrian Ministry of Religious Endowments to shoot inside mosques and another from the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums.
    "I am a very social person so I know how to make people relax before I ask them about their personal lives. I can spend hours having tea with them before they tell me something that I can post on the Facebook page," she said.
    If she wants to take photos near one of the many army checkpoints erected in the city, she usually asks for the soldiers' permission, she added.
    Yousef Jamous, photographed by Humans of Damascus, works at Al Zahir Library in Old Damascus.
    Kataf says some people criticize her for focusing on topics that are far from the reality of war in her country. But she says people usually criticize her even more when she voices her opinions on the conflict.
    "For me, the blood of all Syrians is precious. But whenever I say that, I get accused of being in my own 'lalaland'. They say it's a war and I should choose a side," she said.
    Mohamad Hadiyyeh, photographed by Humans of Damascus, sells antiques in Qabaqbiyyeh neighborhood.
    Since the conflict began in Syria in 2011, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced.
    Many of Syria's UNESCO World Heritage sites have been either partially damaged or destroyed, including Palmyra, which was a revered open-air museum just 200 miles from Damascus, and Aleppo's Great Mosque, which was founded in the Umayyad period and rebuilt in the 12th century.
    Kataf said that the war has taught people to appreciate history and archeology because they can no longer take them for granted.
    As Aleppo continues to be bombarded, Kataf has the following advice: "Learn about the history of the city, so you can rebuild it -- for a city is the reflection of you and you are a reflection of the city."
    "Aleppo was destroyed three times before and was later rebuilt. So there is hope to bring the city back."