Exposed buildings with the sides blown off, abandoned churches missing their rooftops, debris scattered in otherwise empty streets: Homs was once one of Syria’s largest cities, but has suffered immense destruction since the start of the country’s civil war. In 2011, the city became a stronghold for rebel forces—which quickly made it a target for the country’s military. The warfare that followed largely destroyed the city and led the opposition to flee.
But for some, life seemingly goes on: Nada Merhi, 18, and Hassan Youssef, 27, had their wedding photos taken in the war-torn city. On Feb. 5, the newlyweds posed in deserted streets and in crumbling buildings, according to the Washington Post. Their wedding photographer was accompanied by an Agence France-Presse photojournalist who documented their photoshoot in order to show how “life is stronger than death.”
In a way, the photos show how civilian life goes on during wartime. Wedding photographer Jafar Meray uploaded this photo to Facebook and captioned it in Arabic, “Smile, so that the war can feel ashamed.”
But for others, the photos may be a painful reminder of the catastrophic destruction caused by the Syrian conflict. In the photos, Youssef, a member of the government’s military forces, is dressed in a green camouflage uniform alongside his bride. Hundreds of civilian deaths were reported in Homs from March 2011 to August 2015, according to a report from Syrian NGO the Violations Documentation Center. By some estimates, between 200,000 and 300,000 people have died in Syria since the war began. In a sign of just how staggering the impact of the conflict has become, reporting those numbers has proven difficult for even the most powerful human rights organizations: The UN said it would stop reporting the death toll in Syria because it could no longer do so with accuracy.
This isn’t the first couple that Meray has photographed in Homs—and it’s certainly not the first time that a couple has perhaps raised eyebrows by choosing to have their wedding photo shoot in front of a ravaged background.