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Steve McCurry – Afghanistan

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Afghanistan:  It is at once pastoral and chaotic, peaceful and violent, destroyed and resilient, wonderfully welcoming yet deeply inhospitable – Steve McCurry

How could anyone ever forget those eyes?

For someone who tried desperately to get location work in Afghanistan for years and now feels that my chance has passed, I was always tremendously inspired by Steve McCurry’s photo of the Afghan girl and his quest to relocate her after he shot this image in a refugee camp during 1984.

In 2002 Sharbat Gula, the Afghan Girl who became an icon of the refugee situation during Afghanistan’s conflict with Russia in the 1980s, was found again by Steve McCurry who sought her out after his image became one of the most recognised photographs in the world.

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I’ve always felt a huge level of empathy with Steve McCurry in his search for Sharbat Gula.  As a photographer with a passion for Central Asia, I have met so many incredible people and photographed them on my own journeys there.  Although my images are unlikely to gain the same notoriety as the Afghan girl, mine are often widely published to audiences in excess of a million people.

During my expedition to western Tibet last year, some of my most memorable experiences came out of my encounters with nomadic Tibetan tribespeople.  Due to the very nature of their existence, if I ever tried to locate one of these people again, it would be extremely difficult.  I would first have to wrangle with Chinese authorities to gain permission to where they roam (just a few days ago I found out that the entire area my expedition traversed in western Tibet has now been completely shut down by China indefinitely this year) and then commence a physical journey with my printed photographs in hand across one of the world’s harshest landscapes, stopping at nomad tents and asking around to see if I could find these people again.  Finding people who have no fixed address, no name or who have been forcibly removed from their homes through ethnic conflict is almost impossible in some of the places that I have been fortunate to call my offices.

The story of Steve McCurry’s rediscovery of Sharbat Gula was compelling to me and in the end, iris recognition technology, a good network of contacts and one man’s obsessive search finally led him to find her again 18 years after he took her photo.

Although The Afghan Girl was probably the most famous of his images from Afghanistan, Steve McCurry has had a thirty year relationship with the country.  During his visits there he has shot many wonderful images.  From disturbing images of war, to real life portraits, to images depicting the rich tapestry of cultures that make Afghanistan what it is today, the exhibition is a journey through one of the most beautiful yet disturbed countries in the world. A collection of these shots is currently being exhibited at the London gallery of Beetles and Huxley and is simply titled  “Afghanistan”.

I found the entire portfolio both compelling and elegantly shot.  The images were exquisitely framed and it was a good cross section of photographs taken during both the violent periods of Afghanistan’s recent history and the few times where the country has enjoyed a relative peace.

Here are some of my favourite images from the exhibition.

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Respect.

The exhibition runs in London until 7 June and I would encourage anyone with an interest in or connection to Afghanistan to go along and see it.  Whether you have a close personal connection to this part of the world like I have or even if you have enjoyed books like “The Kite Runner”, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” or Khaled Hosseini’s most recent book “And The Mountains Echoed” you would be moved by this body of work.

I certainly enjoyed my vicarious journey through Afghanistan looking at these images.

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