Beautiful Afghanistan

Raven were her locks, and her hair’s perfume like Ambergris;
Rose-coloured, gold-embroidered, is the raiment that she wears,
Like a light her beauty shineth ; has no one seen her? Tell me, pray.
Favour me, O my good fortune, as thou didst when she came with me,
Show me now the footsteps of my loved one that is lost.

– Khush Hal Khan Ichatak, the 17th century Afghan poet

Since I posted about the Matisse exhibit at Tate Modern in London (17 April – 7 September 2014), I thought I’d share news about another special event–Steve McCurry’s Afghanistan photography at the Beetles + Huxley Gallery, 12 May-7 June. Although most of us associate Afghanistan with grim violence and war, it has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world–craggy ravines, lush green valleys, golden deserts, and remnants of old civilizations. But above all, its proud people who’ve weathered centuries of invasions and occupations make this country unique.

mazar

All of these nuances are revealed through McCurry’s photography. His “Afghan girl” for National Geographic has become one of the most recognized images, but his whole body of work on Afghanistan is exceptional and gives more insights into the country than reams of news reports. He doesn’t avoid violence and today’s realities, but he also presents Afghanistan’s extraordinary nature and people and gives a glimpse into local traditions. If you aren’t in London or can’t make it to the exhibit, it’s worth taking a look at the selection of photos via the Beetles + Huxley Gallery website. Some of them are sad, others are beautiful, but all are bound to leave a lasting impression.

One of the images that touched me was the one taken by McCurry at the Blue Mosque at Mazar i Sharif in 1991. White doves, a symbol of peace, are fed by visitors to the 15th century holy site located near the border of Uzbekistan.

Steve McCurry’s photographs can be seen at the Beetles + Huxley Gallery, London, from 12 May-7 June.

Blue Mosque, Mazar i Sharif, Afghanistan, 1991. Photograph by Steve McCurry, on show in London.

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22 Comments

  • Anka: What a touching picture, thanks for sharing it, I wish I were in London now…and yes, the green eyed “Afghan girl” is unforgettable!

    (Btw, are you still in Ukraine? Here is a link to a – in my opinion – very profound and wise essay: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n09/slavoj-zizek/barbarism-with-a-human-face) May 7, 2014 at 7:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I also wish I were in London! Well, I hope that someone will visit the exhibit and share the impressions with us.

      Thank you, Anka! May 7, 2014 at 2:43pm Reply

  • Zazie: Thank you very much for the link.
    The pictures are all very intense and beautiful; while they are varied in the choice of subjects and perspective, they are all equally moving! May 7, 2014 at 8:18am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you. Intense and beautiful is such a perfect way to describe these images on the whole. May 7, 2014 at 2:42pm Reply

  • sara: beautiful image and other photos. i followed your link and read an interesting article about mccurry through google. i remember seeing his girl with green eyes photo in national geographic when it came out (i’m giving away my age here) and i still remember it. May 7, 2014 at 9:44am Reply

    • Michaela: Me, too. It is stunning. Years later, he returned to find her, and he did. May 7, 2014 at 10:12am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved that image the first time I saw it, and I also can picture it exactly. In photography there is so much serendipity, but a talented photographer has a hunch for when a great image can be captured. McCurry is a genius. May 7, 2014 at 2:41pm Reply

      • zari: Hi Victoria, It’s been a while since I commented and I’m glad to be commenting on this particular post. First, thanks for sharing these. Afghanistan really is beautiful, and I struggle with the fact of its destruction this 30 plus years. I was born after the Soviet invasion of the country, but have memories of landscape – rushing rivers of melted snow coming down from the peaks of the Paghman mountains into the lower valley, the ever present silhouette of the Hindu Kush surrounding us, cherry blossoms and almond blossoms, watermelons by the cart load and the ever present grapes growing on the vine in our yard. I remember also Russian planes flying overhead, and Russian soldiers at checkpoints. My family was lucky enough that all of this was untouched (to my child’s eyes maybe) by bombs and bullets, and that we left the country before the civil war happened which brought even more grief and destruction. Well, there are more memories, but let’s just say these images speak to me in ways that few people can understand. Thank you for sharing this! May 8, 2014 at 9:28am Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you very much, Zari. The news reports have a way of dehumanizing places (and violence itself does enough of that too, of course) and although many people heard of Afghanistan, few outsiders can understand either what the people living there go through or what the emigre community feels like watching their country’s destruction. The Soviet invasion was wrong and senseless on so many counts that just thinking about it makes me angry.

          I really wish there were more books in English about Afghanistan’s rich culture–poetry, cuisine, architecture, etc. This is what I love about McCurry’s images. He reminds us of real people, real places, and that beauty exists in all things. May 8, 2014 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Nicola: Being East London/City based I don’t get over to W1 that much but if I do I will take this in, thanks for the alert. Looking through the photos online I was struck by their beauty, even the dead soldier one awful though it is too. Another thought which struck me was how their composition reminded me of Dutch Old Masters and to a lesser extent Spanish Old Masters and lastly, I am no stranger to the sight of burkha clad women but I find the sight jarring even in multi cultural London (and I’m not commenting on women’s rights issues). However in these photos there is a serenity and beauty about them. So much is down to context. Nicola May 7, 2014 at 10:11am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s the power of his images. I like how he captures so much of the place, so many dimensions and nuances.

      By the way, if you or others ever have a chance to see the documentary called Deserts of the Earth, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Michael Martin and Elke Wallner travel on their motorbike for 900 days across all of the major deserts, and Martin passes through Afghanistan as well. May 7, 2014 at 2:40pm Reply

  • Allison c.: Truly beautiful! Thank for letting us know of this amazing exhibit. May 7, 2014 at 10:12am Reply

  • Michaela: He is fantastic! Here is another link, well, easy to find, but worth visiting: http://stevemccurry.com/ May 7, 2014 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much, Michaela! It didn’t occur to me to post a link to his site, which is a huge omission. May 7, 2014 at 2:34pm Reply

  • Gentiana: Thank you for the link and for the info. How I wish to fly to London… May 8, 2014 at 9:18am Reply

  • Austenfan: Those are some seriously beautiful pictures! Thank you for providing the link. May 8, 2014 at 12:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I’ll return to them again and again. May 8, 2014 at 4:25pm Reply

  • The Perfumed Veil: What a life this man must have! To see the nature of humanity through the Afghan perspective is astounding. I enjoyed the Kuchi nomads at prayer most of all. Thanks for letting us in into this touching exhibit. May 9, 2014 at 1:44pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, I can only imagine it! Michaela posted a link to his website, and it’s amazing to see where he has been. May 9, 2014 at 4:50pm Reply

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