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By Jessica Ford

In the volatile Gaza Strip, it doesn’t matter how much critical acclaim Dominc Nahr has received. He’s not protected from the fighting.

The 23-year-old image arts student is in his third week of shooting a photo-essay in Gaza for the Polaris Images Workshop in New York. But the project comes with its dangers.

“One night I shot four frames. We had to get out quickly because we didn’t know who was shooting at whom.” In November, Nahr won a gold medal in the International Picture Story category of the 61st College Photographer of the Year awards.

He spent two months compiling his photo-essay, “East Timor: A Nation Divided,” which shows the Southeast-Asian country’s unrest between regions of the army that then spread to national violence.

The competition attracted 12,500 images by more than 500 students from almost 100 universities. The judges included photographers from National Geographic and The Oregonian. “I’m proud of [the pictures],” said Nahr. “I wouldn’t have entered them if I wasn’t 100 per cent proud of them.” Nahr took the momentum from his success and put it into the Gaza project. which he started in December. “It’s a whole other ball game here. People told me what it would be like but it’s so different. They’re living in an open-air prison,” he said during a phone interview from Gaza.

Born in Switzerland, Nahr moved and spent most of his youth in Hong Kong. He interned for the South China Morning Post newspaper in 2004 and was soon promoted to cadet-staff photographer in 2005. He then travelled to East Timor to photograph for Agence France-Presse, where he met his true calling.

But looking back on his pictures, Nahr wonders how he even got them. “I don’t think I have a good eye. I’m the opposite of a photographer because I’m not very observant. You look into a crowd and you see one person the way they move, the way they react. If I was trying to get a good picture, I would just focus on them,” he said.

Nahr credits his coming to Ryerson to a phase of trusting fate. Although he’s still in that phase, he’s glad he is attending university. “Things can change very quickly in areas like [Gaza]. I don’t want to be stuck without a degree,” he said.

Image arts professor Phil Bergerson, who taught Nahr in second year, attributes Nahr’s personality as being a key factor to the his success.

“He has an ability to immediately create a rapport between himself and his subjects.” Bergerson recalls a time during the 2004 American presidential election when Nahr and friends drove across the border to find an overnight story.

“He just came back with some great material in that very short period of time, mainly because people open themselves up to him,” said Bergerson.

Nahr is in the process of documenting Muslim youth in Toronto through a photo-essay entitled “Muslim Youth: Finding the Path to Allah in North America.”

After he graduates, he hopes to return to Southeast Asia and recordmore of the world’s struggles. But he keeps a humble sense of humor about his success. “I always worry that it’s done, there are no more good pictures,” he said. “I always worry that I’m out of juice. The magic — it’s sacred.”

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