Christopher Morris is familiar with working in controlled environments. From following the rigid protocols of the White House to the totalitarian bubble of North Korea, he has captured lyrical and telling moments under watchful eyes and strict boundaries. Over the last two weeks, Morris, a TIME contract photographer, has been on assignment in Libya and encountered some surprising similarities to some of the places he’s worked in the past.
“You have a government that only wants you to see a very narrow view of reality, a view that is almost always something that is being created especially for you.” Morris said. “The real challenge is to look beyond that and discover the little photographic jewels that you might encounter along the way.”
Morris is relatively free to work in Tripoli, but nowhere else. “You cannot venture outside of the capital without getting detained or worse,” he said. “Even here in Tripoli, you have to be very aware of what and where you’re photographing.”
Images of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi blanket the city, and pro-government rallies are frequent. “As a photographer, you put yourself quite close to the people,” he said. “You can see some people at these staged events that are off on the sideline. They aren’t screaming or jumping up and down. They are just there, staring, almost as if in a daze. You can sense they really don’t want to be there.” But Morris said some of the supporters are authentic. “The love and support from the citizens that your handlers want you to see is very real and genuine, no different than I have seen in our own country.”
Since the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution Thursday authorizing a no-fly zone and military action in Libya, tensions are rising in Tripoli. Morris said that government minders discouraged him from leaving the hotel on Friday, in fear for his safety. But he’s eager to keep working. “I knew yesterday was too soon to pull out,” Morris said.