New York Photo Review
Volume 2 Issue 42 November 29 to December 5, 2011

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

The Afghanistan Conundrum
Simon Norfolk
Burke + Norfolk: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan
At A Music School In Kabul, Boys Are Taught The Traditional Afghan Instrument, The Rubab by Simon Norfolk. Source: bonnibenrubi.com
Simon Norfolk, "At A Music School In Kabul, Boys Are Taught The Traditional Afghan Instrument, The Rubab" 2010

When it comes to war in Afghanistan, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s the basic conceit behind this fascinating exhibition at the Bonni Benrubi Gallery. While it may sound a little trite at first, Simon Norfolk’s compelling images show its veracity. No, you won’t see any war-weary solders or dead bodies lying in the road, but you will see a country destroyed by centuries of war and its aftermath.

Norfolk, a British photographer who has documented the effects of war in a host of countries, first went to Afghanistan in the early 2000’s. He returned ten years later and saw how little had changed. In the intervening years, he had come across the work of John Burke, a well-known 19th century photographer who had documented the Second Anglo-Afghan war in the 1870s. Norfolk decided to follow in Burke’s footsteps when he returned to Afghanistan, using Burke’s work as an influence on his own. The result was a book, Burke + Norfolk, Photographs from the War in Afghanistan by John Burke and Simon Norfolk, published this year. This exhibition stems from the book.

Kabul 'Pizza Express' Restaurant Behind The Municipal Bus Depot  by John Burke. Source: bonnibenrubi.com
Simon Norfolk, "Kabul 'Pizza Express' Restaurant Behind The Municipal Bus Depot " 2010

The connection between the two photographers, while spanning more than a century, is both subtle and obvious. The fourteen images in the exhibition are all Norfolk’s. Seven are in color; the others are sepia-toned, clearly an homage to Burke. Of these, I particularly liked the image of the strongly pro-Taliban refugees posed in front of a tent as well as one of young boys learning how to play the Rubab, an Afghan instrument. They easily could have been taken 150 years ago, and that, of course, is Norfolk’s point. The photographer also shows how little has changed with his sepia-toned image of Afghan police being trained by U.S. Marines and another of a mine detection team with its modern equipment, in classic poses.

In contrast, the color images often reveal what war has done to Afghanistan over the years. For example, “Sham-E Paris Wedding Hall” in Kabul, with its gaudy neon Eiffel towers in the background, shows the results of the West’s occupation. The Taliban can’t be happy about that. The photo of Kabul’s “Pizza Express” restaurant, with large stacks of bombed out buses behind it, is an example of past and present. The image of an abandoned Russian-era airplane parked in front of a building under construction is also a study in contrasts.

I was moved by Norfolk’s early morning photograph of a homeless family camped in the grounds of the Old Presidential Palace. There is a quiet beauty here, dust or smoke in the background, framing the seeming hopelessness of the father and child. Haven’t we seen this before? And again, Norfolk brings us back to reality.

Simon Norfolk
Burke + Norfolk: Photographs from the War in Afghanistan


Bonni Benrubi
41 E 57th St. 13th Fl
Midtown         Map

212 888 6007
bonnibenrubi.com

Thursday, September 15 to
Saturday, December 3, 2011
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 - 6
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery