These Portraits Of Kurdistan's Guerrilla Fighters Show The Faces Of The Brutal Conflict

06/10/2015 04:34 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015

How do you delve beneath the surface of a protracted, brutal conflict -- one that involves Syria, Iraq, Islamic State militants and various Kurdish factions -- and meet the people who are actually involved?

If you're Joseph Anthony Lawrence, the photographer better known as Joey L., you embed with Kurdish fighters, earn their trust and convince them to let you take their portraits. Easy, right? Aside from the minor matter of getting there and back safely, of course.

Earlier this week, Lawrence, a Canadian-born, New York-based photographer and director, published "Guerrilla Fighters of Kurdistan," a personal project he undertook after he became curious about the Kurdish fighters in the region vying for their independence.

"During my initial research, I couldn’t help but notice that there were many theories as to whom these Kurdish guerrilla groups were," Lawrence told The Huffington Post in an email. "The foreign press often romanticized the females in their ranks as fearless warrior women, while some of my Turkish friends suggested that they were terrorists, operating more as opportunists in a bloody war."

"I set out to uncover the truth, or at least to better understand the nuances behind the headlines," he went on. "Portrait photography has a strange way of humanizing even the most distant of situations, and that was my goal with this project."

In a blog recounting his journey, Lawrence describes the aforementioned female fighters as "diminutive but... formidable":

Some carry the signs of a hard-fought war: chemical burns, chapped hands and scars. All the women are treated as equals to their male counterparts, but it is the men who will readily admit that a woman can fight better because she is a natural creator of the world, so she therefore has more to lose -- and therefore more to fight for.

Scroll down to see some of Lawrence's photos from the project, or check out his video of the experience. You can also visit his website to see additional photos and to read his own compelling account of embedding with the Kurdish guerrilla fighters.

  • Joey L.
    Tekoshin, PKK Sniper, Makhmour, Iraq.
  • Joey L.
    Sorxwin, March 9 2015, Tel Hamis, Syria
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  • Joey L.
    Sarya with RPG, PKK, Makhmour, Iraq.
  • Joey L.
    PKK Guerrillas Pose Near Makhmour Trench Position, Makhmour, Iraq.
  • Joey L.
    PKK member Rukal.
  • Joey L.
    PKK member Ruken.
  • Joey L.
    Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Guerrillas Patrol Makhmour Countryside, Iraq
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  • Joey L.
    Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) Guerrillas Patrol Makhmour Countryside, Iraq
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  • Joey L.
    Makhmour Countryside, Iraq
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  • Joey L.
    Makhmour Countryside, Iraq
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  • Joey L.
    Makhmour Countryside, Iraq
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  • Joey L.
    Berivan, PKK Commander, Makhmour, Iraq.
  • Joey L.
    Women of the YPJ: Didar.
  • Joey L.
    Women of the YPJ: Sorxwin.
  • Joey L.
    Women of the YPJ: Dilan.
  • Joey L.
    Women of the Shingal Resistance Unit, Sinjar Mountain, Iraq

  • Joey L.
    Women of the Shingal Resistance Unit, Sinjar Mountain, Iraq

  • Joey L.
    Joey L. with members of the YPG/J in Tel Hamis, Syria.

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