In the United States, the nation of Afghanistan has come to symbolize a weary drawn out war with nightly TV combat clips of the destruction and an endless roll call of the latest military casualties. I think we have become emotionally deaden to the human suffering of what it means to live in conditions of continuous combat and danger.
As a counter-balance to the ongoing images of the Afghan war, Manca Juvan provides the reader with an emotional alternative, perhaps at times only a little less dark. Her documentary photographic project of this ravaged region spans six years, from 2003 to 2009. Juvan’s investigation is segmented into the following sections: Forgotten, Threat, Privileged, Supporting, Living, Home and Unveiled.
Her natural light photographs are intimate and captured from a tight and close perspective. She is not photographing her subjects from a far, but rather in their midst. Close and personal. It appears that Juvan has first created trusting relationships with her subjects, who then allow their private lives to be investigated and revealed. As I think about the making of the photographs for this photobook, I suspect that this is a difficult region for a women photographer to work, with the prejudice against women I hear so often about. Thus this body of work that Juvan has compiled is amazing.
The last photographic page spread below is one of those that continues to stay with me. This photobook is comprised mostly of color photographs and as I paged through the book during my first reading, I fully expected that this documentary would be entirely in color. Then the surprise of finding one small section of Black & White images that were toward the end of the book. These photographs have a slightly different read, a little more abstract and graphic. This particular portrait of a woman, below, is minimalistic, a hand, a gesture, and a small part of face reflected in the mirror, while yet telling about her past in the counting down of the days. I find it stunning.
While reading this book, I am reminded of the equally sensitive documentary photographic work of Rania Matar’s “Ordinary Lives”. Both photographers focus mostly on the women and children who appear to be trying to survive in a state of turmoil. They have a shared and unique feminine perspective. Perhaps a common and shared thread between these two women photographers is their ability to symbolize our humanity in the face of adversity and our relentless sense of hope, where perhaps there should not be any.
The book object is an elegant embossed hardcover book within a printed slipcase. The color photographic plates are numbered and captioned and the facing pages interspersed with quotes from the subjects as well as from Afghanistan writers and poets. The Afterwords’ are written by Clare Lockhart and Karim Merchant and the photobook design is by Bostjan Pavletic.
Note: for the embossed cover, above, there are some interesting & ever slight blue artifacts in my cover photograph which are not present on the book boards, so please disregard them. The book cover is in fact a solid dark brown.