GIRL WITH GREEN SHAWL, PESHAWAR, 2002
WHAT follows is a partial catalogue of things you might find in Steve McCurry’s photographs of Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush. They include poppy fields, abandoned tanks, donkeys, one-legged children on crutches, children carrying guns, a child working in a foundry, children swathed in bandages and syruped in blood, soldiers, mountains, mountain tribes, donkeys, a statue of Buddha that has all the monumentality of a Jack Kirby comic book splash page (a Buddha statue that has since been destroyed, it ought to be noted), a city of tents, cities falling down, cities that have been destroyed. In short, images of a landscape and people that McCurry has been visiting for more than three decades, images full of violence and pain.
But what do you remember when you look at the photographs? You remember the faces. These haunting, haunted, sometimes tormented faces that stare out at you in pain, and sometimes, all too few times, in hope and defiance. Like this Afghan refugee caught on film in Peshawar in Pakistan just across the border from Afghanistan.
“This collection,” William Dalrymple writes in the afterword to the photographer’s new book, “is a testament to McCurry’s longstanding love of Afghanistan, his solidarity with its people and his commitment to recording their wondrous beauty.”
The result can sometimes be hard to look at, yet equally, hard to look away from.
Afghanistan by Steve McCurry is published by Taschen, priced £59.99