Wasteland to waterworld
Capturing the road less travelled
IT was a rare, unadulterated glimpse into the minutiae of the life of the Afghan people caught up in 12 years of war in the Oruzgan province of Afghanistan that caught the eye of judges in the 2013 News Photograph of the Year category.
The Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty spent three weeks in Afghanistan, and 10 days in the province with Paul McGeough, providing a candid picture of how the locals lived in an active war zone.
When heading to a country impacted by the trauma of more than a decade of war, Ms Geraghty says a photographer has to go in with an open mind.
“You can’t set out with an idea to capture something; you can’t have any preconceived ideas,” she says.
“You have to be really flexible and try to photograph as much as possible.”
When Ms Geraghty landed in Afghanistan she found a resilient nation still dealing with an insurgency, and living with an occupation by Australian and NATO personnel.
Her brief was not to capture the Australian experience, nor the experience of armed personnel. It was to do what no Australian photographer had done before and capture the experiences of the Afghan people.
She lived with the Afghan National Police, and was based out of their compound in Tarin Kowt.
They were her guides throughout the country, showing her the land and introducing her to the people the media often overlooked.
“The police would take us to the far reaches of the Orugzan province,” Ms Geraghty said.
“From there, they asked the tribal elders of each area to see if they would meet with us and talk to us.
“We would have these meetings with locals and sometimes it would be a group of 20; I think the largest group was of about 200, 300 people.”
Ms Geraghty said the experience was a rare glimpse into how people lived.
The Afghan National Police took Ms Geraghty and her crew to the far reaches of the country, giving her a chance to meet with people who would have very little exposure to media.
“We met with people from all walks of life,” she said.
“From shepherds to senators, from camel herders to nomads, local police to booksellers.”
Despite the hardships, she said the Afghan people were among the friendliest and most welcoming she had ever met.
“We did not have one incident where we weren’t welcomed,” Ms Geraghty said.
“The hospitality was incredible.”
Still, the reality of her assignment soon set in.
One night after Ms Geraghty and her crew had returned to the Afghan National Police compound in Tarin Kowt, they had heard a bomb go off in a compound not far from them.
On another incident, they had travelled to a town called Mirabad on the edge of the Oruzgan province, bordering on the notorious Helmand province.
They had been meeting the elders in the village when they received word that several IEDs (improvised explosive devices) had been found on the road they had been travelling on. “It’s a war zone,” she says. “You knew that. There were all these blown up holes in the ground and burnt out, destroyed vehicles. “But we were very safe.” Ms Geraghty says her experience in Afghanistan was eye-opening, and gave her a rare chance to see the country from a perspective not many others have had.
From her short stay, she captured thousands of photographs. One that still sticks out.
“My favourite photo is the one where the tribal elders are walking past the barbed wire fence at dusk,” she says.
“I was just struck by their incredible dignity, and how proud they were as a people.”
Her time with Fairfax has taken her from Papua New Guinea, to Lebanon, to South Sudan, and everywhere in between, but her Afghanistan assignment was a particular highlight.
“Getting to know the Afghan people is an experience I’ll never forget,” she said.
“There needs to be more journalism of this type, and I think readers and people really appreciate getting this perspective from the reality people are living in.”
ABOVE: A mother from Chenarto village in Oruzgan Province holds her three- year- old son as she pours tea in her home in an Internally Displaced People’s camp in North West Kabul. TOP RIGHT: A group of tribal elders walk past razor- wire surrounding a police compound after a gathering in Mirabad to discuss the issues facing the people in Oruzgan Province. The image is a favourite of Ms Geraghty.
The Sydney Morning Herald photographer Kate Geraghty ( pictured) and images from her Afghanistan trip.