Photo Book Review: ‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia’ by Simon Norfolk

‘Afghanistan: Chronotopia’ by Simon Norfolk, is a series of landscape photographs of Afghanistan during the war.  Afghanistan has been ravaged by war for more then twenty years, something we are well aware of but see in a completely different way through Norfolk’s images.

In this series Norfolk has documented the devastating effects the war has had on Afghanistan’s beautiful architecture, buildings and landscapes.  The images in ‘Afghanistan: Chrontopia’ were taken in December 2001 and May 2002. The war began in 2001 so Norfolk was able to capture the opening stages of the war in Afghanistan, which was launched following the 9/11 attacks in New York.

The physical book is almost an exact square shape (32 cm x 29 cm), consisting of 104 pages.  The opening pages include the title, the photographers name and the publisher (Dewi Lewis). On the left hand side a quote, in small white font reads, “for catina, ‘of night and the light and the half light’”.  Taken from the poem by W.B. Yeats entitled, ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’. The poem is gentle, of love with soft undertones:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Maybe these are the feelings that Norfolk conjures up when reminiscing over Afghanistan, the fragility of a beautiful landscape, love for a bleeding country. Or maybe he wants us as the audience to be aware of life’s fragility itself. Whatever the reasoning, Norfolk chose this quote in particular, a very beautiful and intriguing one. I love that Norfolk included this, as it stirred up questions in my mind and you come to realize that the images reflect the quote. On the following page, you are flicked to thorough information about Afghanistan and the images as a whole, before seeing any images. I like this because the readers are more informed and so can understand and I feel appreciate the images more.

In terms of human presence, the landscapes show the destruction caused by the war. The effects of man and man made machinery. It’s saddening really.Even so, the images are exquisitely beautiful despite the underlying horror and destruction.  All the photographs are in colour. Soft purples, light blues, golds and browns dominate the images, a true treat for the eyes. The photographs educate the viewer about the turmoil and severe genocide this glorious place has encountered through the beauty in the images.

All the photographs are quite large and one image folds out allowing the viewer to interact with the book. Some images are situated on the left side, others on the right, the majority are on the right. Some images go onto the next page. Some images are placed next to each other. At the end of the images, we see all the images featured in the book as medium sized thumbnails. Alongside the images are short descriptions and details of the pictures. I think I’d prefer these descriptions to be paired with the main images because I did find myself wanting to know what the equipment was or what happened to a certain building.  Nonetheless, you find out in the end.

I would definitely recommend this book just for it’s sheer beauty and substance. You will never have seen such delicate beautiful photographs of the effects of war in Afghanistan.

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