The photographs in this collection reveal an Afghanistan very different from the one we know today. What we see in these images is not just an Afghanistan at peace, but also a people at peace with themselves, going about their daily routines.
Taken over thirty years ago and unseen by the public until 2005, the photographs show the vibrancy and nuance of an ancient culture nearly lost to 25 years of war and political turmoil. They portray the laughing children and the handsome faces of a rugged and courageous people living as they have for centuries. These images were taken prior to the Russian invasion and many years before civil war wracked the country and allowed the establishment of the murderous rule of the Taliban and invasion of foreign fighters.
From the perspective of a young traveler, one might say the 1970s saw Afghanistan at it’s best. With only recently opened borders, the country offered a kind of adventure travel not often seen since: safe, inexpensive travel through a land of towering mountains concealing verdant orchards and untouched torrents; vast deserts, wandering nomad tribes, and a welcoming people generous far beyond their means.
These images show a wide breadth of the country from intimate portraits to the towering 5th-century Buddhas of Bamian, since destroyed by Taliban extremists. The photographs convey a complex Afghanistan, a culture rich in history and tradition but modernizing and connecting to the outside world. The exhibition includes candid shots of Afghans at work and at play. Taken at a time when political content would have been irrelevant, when seen as a whole the exhibition offers the viewer a refreshing change from the ubiquitous, dreary media images of Afghanistan today.
FLOATING THE KABUL RIVER ON INFLATED COW SKINS WITH 3 UNIDENTIFIED AFGHANS.
THE PRESENCE OF THE SQUASH RACQUET REMAINS A MYSTERY.
Photo by Gary Crandall
The Afghans loved their King, Mohammed Zahir Shah. They prayed, and they loved their land, their gardens and their families. Afghanistan was then a nation with a thriving intellectual community with free exchange of ideas, respectful of its rich cultural heritage and seemingly wiling to embrace its ethnic diversity.
Hidden from the casual traveler, however, were political, religious and cultural factors that would, in the ensuing years, radically change the Afghanistan I was experiencing.
To be sure, this was a poor country; then, as now, one of the poorest on the planet. But this was a nation, hidden away in central Asia, with a recorded history dating to before 3000 BC. The ancient land had seen the coming of Alexander the Great and was an outpost of Greek culture. In the 3rd – 5th centuries it had been a great center of Buddhist culture and learning. It was the home of Tamerlane and had been invaded by Genghis Khan. The city of Balkh, known since antiquity as the Mother of Cities, located near present day Mazar-I-Sharif, was the birthplace of the beloved Sufi poet Jellaludin Rumi.