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After the large-scale projects of Afghanistan, I returned to the UK: home. After settling down, I began a process of reconnection. I reconnected with my children, whom I have spent far too little time with. I also thought a great deal about the nature of belonging and the connections we all have to places, time and thought itself. As a consequence, I returned to Blaenau Ffestiniog, for the first time in more than a decade. It is a small slate mining town of less than 5,000 inhabitants, with a remarkable history. 150 years of mining has transformed the landscape forever, yet the vast slate spoils have formed 'natural man-made' environment that one cannot imagine undone. It is an epic demonstration of the enduring ties between humankind and local natural resources. This project is ongoing.
This project takes a final, long look back at a country that perplexes, infuriates, wounds and seduces in equal measure. Anyone who spends significant time in Afghanistan departs with memories of sorrow and loss, such is the situation today.
Yet there is a richness of history that combined with an epic landscape, is unequalled. With 50,000 years of agriculture, it is a landscape that takes us back to the dawn of civilisation, when the continued existence of same appears balanced on the edge of a precipice.
The photographs were taken through aircraft windows while criss-crossing the country during 2015. They are a choice to look past the horrors of the current era, to an ancient and compelling landscape that existed long before and will exist long after.
This series was shot with a mobile phone on the 13th of June, 2014, during a flight from Herat (in the West of Afghanistan) to Kabul, in the East. It was the day before the decisive final round of the presidential election and, as we gained altitude, I was intrigued by my own detachment from the realities of what was happening below. The insurgents’ campaign of violence and imitation was reaching its climax, but from the air, one could only marvel at the graphical beauty of the unfolding landscape.
Shooting this series led me to undertake a larger project Afghanistan 50K
From a young age, we are encouraged to gaze skyward and constantly reminded of all that is possible. Celestial wonder is a part of our upbringing, which forces back horizons and influences our sense of self. But it is a privilege: for the less fortunate, horizons may be decidedly earthbound and, in some cases, limited to the walls and ceilings just feet above their heads. Photographed in Afghanistan, inside and around the ruined Russian Cultural Centre, these images are an abstract illustration of this Terrestrial Cosmos.
For almost a decade, the Russian Cultural Centre was home to thousands of Afghan heroin addicts, before being demolished at the end of 2012, shortly after this project was completed.
February 2012 saw Kabul’s neighbourhoods brought to a standstill by heavy snow. For a few short days, the attacks stopped and the air was cleared of pollution, as people were forced to walk rather than drive. Mountains disappeared behind cloud and the scattered remnants of war became as white as the surrounding fields.
With the landscape transformed, scenes played out in isolation, barely connected to each and far removed from the oppressive larger reality that dominates daily life in the Afghan capital. Once the snow had melted and the streets cleared, all that occurred, and the relief that came with it, was erased. These photographs are all that prove these moments existed at all.
Varanasi presents an unfamiliar conception of death to the visitor and, consequently, a radically different approach to life. Just as the phases of life are less compartmentalised and distinct than we are used to, the prospect of reincarnation brings about surprising relationships between humans and other animals.
In direct reference to Charles Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species,’ this project asks questions about what it means to be human and rather less who we are than what we are.
Afghanistan's heroin is usually considered only as an export product that ruins lives around the world. What is forgotten is that the same drug ravages the Afghan population, where it affects a far higher percentage of the population than in western countries (in Afghanistan, usage runs at over 1.5%). With massive foreign investment ploughed into ineffective Poppy Eradication Programs, the lack of funding for programs supporting Afghan users was shocking to me. This imbalance suggested a lack of interest in the domestic problem and the loss of an opportunity to demonstrate crucial solidarity. With so much talk of 'hearts and minds' in the counterinsurgency campaign, the western poppy eradication strategy struck me as fatally flawed, both morally and practically. This project was intended to shed light on the problem and document the existence of so many souls shunned by their countrymen and unknown to the world. Many agreed to be photographed simply so that there would be evidence that they had lived.
This series was shot predominantly at the Russian Cultural Centre, but also at Puli Surkhta bridge and the Jangalak drug rehabilitation centre (all in Kabul).
In the west, junctures between people, the natural world and the man-made environment are normally unmistakable. However, in much of Afghanistan, sheer attrition has forced the boundaries to converge and to blur, often leaving people superficially resembling the hardened environments that barely support them. In some cases the overriding impression is one of desperate survival by any means, but in shooting this project it has become increasingly difficult to pinpoint what gives a person cause for happiness or the strength to cope with extreme adversity. The individuals beyond the visual impression are often remarkable, bringing new insights into the history of the country and its possible futures.
Afghanistan remains littered with powerful reminders of past dynasties, which, despite decades of conflict, continue to feature strongly in daily life. In shooting Russians & Royals I have looked at how ordinary Afghans are coping with the current era set against backdrops of the past; a past, which often remains the prevalent influence despite the ongoing intervention.
Each of the four locations photographed (two Russian, two royal) has its own history and enduring legacy; from young men socialising at the Russian Pool to heroin addicts at the Russian Cultural Centre, kite fliers at the King’s Tomb and impoverished children at the King’s Palace, life remains buoyant but to greatly varying degrees. While the scenes depicted vary considerably, the photographic locations lie very close to each other and all within the heart of the country’s capital, Kabul.