“What then is the purpose of all this travel and photography in Afghanistan? Not to change the state of their lives, but to sate my curiosity, my wandering urge. So how do I differ from the hippy of my youth, bent on self-gratification and adventure? Perhaps I bring more understanding to the situation. I can bring my souvenirs back in the form of photographs and select and order them in a book for sale, rather than spout rambling tales amongst friends over beer and a shared joint.

“Also, I was working. Someone paid me to be there to commit these people’s sufferings, their crazy ways, their grace and culture to film. I did it, I believe, with more passion and engagement than the hired hand need bring to the task. Perhaps my pictures did make some difference. Raised some money for an aid organisation, raised someone’s awareness. Awareness? So nebulous a word. If I am lucky this slim volume can enter as a trace of memory, a record of these people, of this time, this country. Afghanistan.

“But is that enough? I engage and then fly away. Taking their gifts, my photographs, to a distant land they will never visit. My country.”—Chris Steele-Perkins

From “Afghanistan,” published by Westzone (French version: “Afghanistan,” by Marval). Steele-Perkins’ work is found on The Magnum Photos Web site, www.magnumphotos.com.

Afghanistan, 1996. Teacher and pupils in Mazar Sharif, before the Taliban occupied the town. Under the Taliban, all girls schools have been closed. Photo by Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos

Afghanistan, 1996. A man having a shave in Kabul. Although not liked, the Taliban have brought some stability and rule of law so that, for men at least, daily trade can continue.

Afghanistan, 1994. Amputees—mainly victims of land mines—are equipped with false limbs at the Red Cross center in Kabul.

Photos by Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos

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