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My new book is out: (my) Afghanistan

Some of you have reminded me a few times that it was about time to give out a new book. Well, now it’s out: (my) Afghanistan.

It’s documentary work about the people of Badakshan, Afghanistan, and their daily struggle to survive not war or terror, but landslides, floods and erosion of vital agricultural soil.

No grainy and gritty black & white this time (well, only a few pages actually), but 168 color pages that hopefully will do justice to the wonderful colors of this poorly known (and, alas, unfairly considered) region of central Asia.

A quick look into the book is offered below. To order a copy, click here.

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Lunch

Lunch on carpets, and Tri-X. Badakhshan, Afghanistan. May 2014.

Salaam, Afghanistan

17th May 2014. While Norway celebrates the 200 year anniversary of their constitution, I’m heading for the remote Badakhshan, north east of Afghanistan, for the third time.

There, no constitutional paper grants each and every citizen equal rights, as a base for justice and prosperity. There, natural hazards alone cost hundreds of lives every year. Just 10 days ago, a massive landslide buried half a village and between 2000 and 2700 people, over a third of whom children. A few thousand more have been forced to leave their houses of clay, maybe forever. The disaster in Badakhshan made international headlines for 2 – 3 days and now is gone, forgotten.

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For images and stories from my previous trips to Afghanistan, see the Documentary section above.

The blue of Afghanistan

A number of you, after seeing my previous series from Afghanistan, noticed (and commented on) the absence of women.

Well, with this post I focus exactly on the women of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, photographing women there is rather problematic. Just about everyone will strongly advise you against doing so: Photographing a woman (even one in a chador) out in the street may result in you being confronted by angry men or, worse, in her being beaten up. The sad reality is that there is barely worse place in the world to be born as a woman than Afghanistan, with the country’s rural areas being worst.

Here, a woman is a man’s property just like a donkey. Failing to accept a husband’s authority (even when imposed with violence) can result in jail, or in the worst case in a new, more terrible life begging in the street, stripped of all dignity.

Not many women in Afghanistan get married because they’re in love. Most of them are married off, meaning that at an age of 15 – 20 they are sold by their own parents to the best offeror, a man who not unusually is 20 or 30 years older. A more fortunate girl may stay home a little longer, study and even get herself a job, as long as each step is discussed with – read decided by – her parents. She may not exactly get married off, but will be engaged to and eventually marry the first man who proposed himself (to her parents) convincingly enough. Once engaged, she’ll even be allowed to date her fiancĂ©, in her mother’s or aunt’s presence, of course.

Women here are generally not supposed to work, but I hear that an increasing number of men now allow their wives to do so, at least in the cities. However, a number of professions that require contact with male strangers or public exhibition (e.g. flight attendant or singer) may still give a woman a social status that’s barely better than a prostitute’s. Things are changing, however. Women condition is slowly improving, starting from the cities. But the process is slow, particularly in the most remote rural areas.

To foreign visitors, the women of Afghanistan are melancholic silhouettes of an intense blue moving along dusty road sides, alone or a few steps behind their husbands. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk to those women, to ask them about their lives and dreams or wish them a brighter future. I couldn’t. That chador of blue polyester, worn every single day from their puberty on, is an impenetrable barrier, and not only for the relieving breeze in the intense summer heat..

Fayzabad, Afghanistan (Tri-X 400)

Fayzabad, north-eastern province of Badakhshan, in president Karzai’s Afghanistan.

While men proudly walk the streets and pose for photographs, women hide behind their chador or stay confined to dedicated areas (like the women recreational park that I had the unique privilege to be admitted to).

More of my BW work in Afghanistan here: Streets and roads of Afghanistan

Streets and roads of Afghanistan

What defines street photography? And what defines a street? Asphalt? Shiny skyscrapers? Street lights? Busy people rushing in or out of a subway?

In this case, doing street photography in Afghanistan (and much of the world) might be hard, as you find none of that.

Whether they qualify as street photography or not, the pictures below are all taken on the streets and roads of Afghanistan.

You may also want to check the color gallery with more images:

Steep lives of the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan

Dummies

I’ve always been searching for new ways to make my life meaningful, to fill it with something worthy. And I’ve always felt little and insignificant comparing myself with those I admire, famous or completely unknown people who really make the difference for others as well as filling their own lives with things worth living for.

I believe that having a brain and a normally functioning body and living under the most fortunate conditions almost forbids us to just stand and watch, like headless, armless dummies. I have always dreamt of getting my chance to act, well knowing that my definition of acting requires either a particularly smart brain or guts, if not both.

Now, I have a chance. Engineers Without Borders need a geologist with landslide / avalanche experience in a remote province of north-eastern Afghanistan, where entire villages have been buried and hundreds of people killed by major avalanches the last two winters.

One of the dummies is tired of standing there and watching, and in a few weeks will not only try to help those people stay safe against avalanches, but hopefully also tell their stories in pictures. Stay tuned.

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