It was 1979 when I decided I needed a break from my graduate school. I treated my decision as an excuse to travel with my trusty Canon AE-1 and forty roles of Tri-X. During that year I went as far as Nepal but my four months in Afghanistan left some of the deepest impressions. It was an Afghanistan that no longer exists. I know for a fact three of the people in these four-decade-old images are deceased and I suspect all the others are too. Like them, their former homeland is gone, and the new one is yet to be born.
In 1979, it was still a few months before the Russians would invade, a few years before the Taliban, and a few more years before the coalition forces of the West would bomb and occupy Afghanistan. It was in Herat where I first saw women covered head-to-foot in their pleated burqas.
This man, a beggar perhaps, was sitting in the shade outside the Kabul souk. Staring and motionless on a camel-hide cushion, he held an unlit match that he would eventually strike and apply to the contents of the clay bowl atop the water pipe. Soon the watermelon between his feet might bring him a moment of pleasure…
Along a mountain track, I met Rahim with his sleeping daughter on his shoulders. His village and the village where they were going to attend a tribal party were bombed into oblivion during the coalition’s search for Osama bin Laden.
Before the invasions, Afghans tended to be open-hearted, unhurried and generous, traits visible in the faces of this tea merchant and his customer.
In ancient times, Bamian in the north of the country was an important Buddhist center. The monks carved caves and statues into the rock, and this monolithic statue, the largest in the country, was intentionally destroyed by the Taliban with mortar fire.
This young guard is barely older than the school children parading in Kandahar.
Only a month before I passed through Ghazni, a woman was stoned to death for adultery in this open space below the fortified town.
This fellow sold fancy décor and trim for camels.
These two smiling men were bringing in their harvest. Then, as now, hash and opium were prevalent in the country. Except for the tires, wheels and axle, the wagon is made entirely of wood and rope.
A crowded bus on the road between Kandahar and Kabul. All those smiling faces… Did any of these men make it through the invasions and wars?