The introduction to this defining work is stark in its simplicity, summing up in few words what thousands of news reports over the past 10 years or more, have failed to do, establishing the ebb and flow of a country which is as magnificent as it is ferocious, that has over centuries seen it all, as far as changes in religion, conquerors and war is concerned. This lifestyle has bred into the people attitudes almost of resignation, a desire to support whoever they feel is the strongest and adapt to what was perhaps not always, such a harsh way of living, of existing.
From 1996 to 2001, the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with a harsh and brutal regime, until they were toppled by a US lead offensive, after the horrific attacks of 9/11 planned and carried out by Osama bin Laden and his followers.
In 2001, Bussian was to visit Afghanistan for the first time as a photographer with the International Rescue Committee, to record the displaced Afghans in refugee camps in Pakistan for the New York based humanitarian organisation. This was to be the first of many visits spanning a 15 year period and the beginning of his love affair with this astonishingly contradictory country. He was given, to his immense surprise, leave to enter Afghanistan by the Taliban, in order to ‘show the world the real Afghanistan’, providing he did not photograph any of the people!
So of the many photographs in this collection, which span the years, are perhaps more informative than the written word; they are a visual study of people who have been oppressed, brutalised and in the case of women, treated abominably.
Beginning with the People, each picture in this essay is explained with simple text making the image so much more compelling, allowing a personal interpretation as to what you are viewing. Women in Chadris at a bazaar at Puli Khumri (2009), a family of merchants in front of their shop in Baghaln Province, a man living in the ruins of Kabul,(2004) an old woman in famine, Ghor Province (2003) show the stark reality of war, of oppression, the suffering of the young, the old and the women.
The stunning beauty of this fractured country is shown with a lake that is part of the Band-e Amir National Park established in Bamyan Province in 2010, the rugged Pamir Mountains, which in themselves have a history stretching back beyond 138 BC, show the majestic harshness of the country, the untamed beauty that Rumi, a 13th century Persian Poet and Rudyard Kipling, (1865-1936) modern day poet, immortalised in their poetry.
That Afghanistan is a country little understood by Western eyes is an understatement, but it is well known as a significant country in modern times , as the place ‘that started it all’, started the War Against Terrorism, that has done so much damage, claimed the lives of many and in so many ways, changed some aspects significantly and others, not at all.
The final chapter looks at life in Afghanistan today, The New Afghanistan, where girls and women can now go to school, may go about their business without the chadri; where villages are being rebuilt little by little and heath standards, largely due to Western intervention, are improving lifestyles for everyone.
The final shot is of Hazouri, an actor and Sufi mystic on the set of Opium Wars, a movie filmed in Afghanistan during 2007, which perhaps, as much as the shots of girls and women benefiting from their new found freedom, shows that much may change, but much will still and always remain, shrouded in the mystery, and majesty, that is Afghanistan.
Stunning, brilliant, evocative and far, far more than a glamourous coffee table book, Passage to Afghanistan offers an understanding of a fiercely independent race of people, who in the end, will continue on as they have done over many centuries, despite famine, drought, wars and what appears to be the never ending destruction of their traditional lifestyle.
|Distributor||New South Books|