Afghanistan’s photography problem

Google ‘Afghanistan.’ I just did, and the photos that showed up? These:

A map of the country, a photo of an American soldier with villagers in the background, Bamiyan city, Steve McCurry’s famous photo of Afghan refugee Sharbat Gula, and…more soldiers.

I’m surprised there weren’t any photos of women in burkas or unwashed, frightened-looking little boys in this first lineup. Those are wire service favorites.

Afghanistan, like Africa, has a photography stereotypes problem.

More soon on why this is a problem. And thanks to Glenna Gordon for more blogging inspiration.

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3 thoughts on “Afghanistan’s photography problem

  1. Iraq is actually worse. A map, 3 with soldiers, and a dead guy on the ground are all on the first row of hits. (At least when I google it here. I don’t know if image results vary by country you’re in.)

    From looking up France, Germany, Brazil (pictures of sexy ladies), China, most industrialized and stable countries start with flags and maps. African countries without a history of post-colonial war (I just quickly searched Botswana, Namibia, Kenya,) are mostly the same except sometimes have like “random tribesman.” Even Sierra Leone is pretty generic until the kid with the AK in 5th row.

    Sort of an interesting exercise. What would you suggest they be posting photos of instead?

    • It’s not so much an “instead” issue as one of balance. The pictures above depict real things. The problem is that the same images are repeated over and over and over, to the exclusion of all others, and Afghanistan literally *becomes* those things, and those things only, in the imagination of the outside world.

      And if a country is nothing but violence, fear and poverty, there’s nothing at stake because there’s nothing left to lose, nowhere left to fall, right?

      I’ll post some “huh, is that really Afghanistan?” photos when I have a faster connection.

  2. I just posted a new story by Iva Zimova that gives a different view of Afghanistan. Iva has visited the country many times, and this past summer she decided to take a series of simple portraits of people in the northern provinces – farmers, beekeepers, vendors, policemen etc.

    here’s the link http://bit.ly/f78lKO

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