Title: The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders
Author: Emmanuel Guibert
Published: 2009 Pages: 288
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir (Graphic)
Rating: One slight annoyance but a whole lot of wow.
In Short: Photographer Didier Lefèvre is invited to join a group of doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to travel into Afghanistan in 1986.
Why I Read The Photographer: I discovered this one during NonFiction November thanks to Sharlene from Olduvai Reads.
Thoughts in General: First, let me apologize for the crappy iphone pictures of the book below. This book is large! And hard to prop open! But I wanted to give you a glimpse of the format of The Photographer. As you can see, this book is a combination of photographs taken by Didier Lefèvre with illustrations by Emmanuel Guibert to complete the story of this particular journey into Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Soviet Union was occupying part of the nation.
Whenever I read the history of Afghanistan, or really any middle eastern country, I am fascinated by the complexity of the events that shaped these countries. In the beginning of The Photographer, a very short (recent) history of Afghanistan is provided, including much of the complicated tangle of aid given by whom and to whom. But while politics play a huge part of the history, The Photographer doesn’t necessarily focus on much outside of the threat of the Soviets. The MSF doctors entered Afghanistan illegally through Pakistan and much of the book is devoted to their journey into Afghanistan, their time served healing the sick, diseased, and injured (both civilians and those who are part of the resistance), and Lefèvre’s return journey to Pakistan.
I love that the head of this MSF team is a woman. I loved seeing the interactions between her and the men. I loved seeing all of the camera shots that absolutely humanize these individuals. Some pages are completely full of photographs–some are variations of the exact same shot. Some sadly too small to see clearly, but some also so full of emotion. Some that are absolutely heartbreaking and devastating. I loved the inclusion of the drawn storyline and the way that it provided insight into the journey and stay at the clinic. My one big regret is that we don’t see very many women in the book–I think some of this is because they didn’t want to be photographed, but their absence felt so glaringly obvious to me. I wanted to go into their homes and see their lives.
And my slight annoyance? At the end of his stay in Afghanistan, Lefèvre just wants to get back to France as quickly as he can. He impatiently decides to journey back to Pakistan without the rest of the MSF team. He is warned and warned about the dangers of this and sure enough it goes badly. Very badly. I couldn’t help but be frustrated by his ignorance and stubbornness. He made himself sound like a petulant child. But alas.
Bottom Line: Absolutely worth the read. The Photographer is a powerful look into Afghanistan that provides such a telling story through the pictures. My sole complaint (well, other than the lack of the local women and Lefèvre’s idiotic decision) is that the book is rather large–as in a I had to prop it up against my legs to read. But The Photographer is definitely worth seeking out to experience.