Revelations of Afghanistan as A War Zone: Andrew Quilty’s Photo-Journalism

A series of striking images for the Year 2016 in the local Advertiser newspaper include one by Andrew Quilty which had the caption, ”Shock: a dead patient on an operating table at Afghanistan’s MSF Trauma Center after an attack by an American gunship on the hospital.” I am still searching for this particular image but found a veritable treasure trove in the Andrew Quilty site. I present selections for the benefit of those readers who bask in the comforts of relatively peaceful sites and landscapes. For many Sri Lankans of all ethnicities, of course, these pictures will evoke memories of traumatic times, albeit within landscapes that differ from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan. For bio-data on Quilty, see

quilty-33 DAY 17: Sunday 21 August 2016: “I was up early this morning to meet the friend and fixer that Sune, Danielle and I often work with in Helmand, on the outskirts of Kabul. Although Helmand is his home, Rauf is in self-imposed exile at the moment. As an Afghan that worked for several years as an interpreter for the British army (not to mention foreign journalists), had the province fallen to the Taliban as was recently feared, he’d have been a marked man. (Rauf has been waiting more than 18 months for his UK visa to be finalised.)We were waiting to speak with the local commander at a police checkpoint toward the southern outskirts of Kabul when a taxi pulled to a stop. Its boot was open and a pair of bloodied, lifeless feet hung over the tailgate. Inside, a middle-aged man lay on a stretcher. Several bandages barely hid stab wounds – inflicted during what we were told was a family dispute. A younger man held a clear bag of IV fluid to the roof. His hand was rusty with dried blood.”quilty-11 DAY 22, Friday 22 Agugust: “After minor misadventures in Macroyan last night, this afternoon I found myself back in the labyrinth of Soviet-built apartment blocks after Friday prayers. But this time I had a purpose. I’d asked around about one particular student killed in the attack on the American University two nights ago – tributes for whom were filling my social media feeds. I made my way to his family home to introduce myself before the burial later in the afternoon. I knew very little about Jamshid Zafar at that point, but over the course of a couple of hours, as family and friends waited for his body to be brought home one last time before burial, the picture of a bright, generous, sincere young man emerged. Zafar was known for his ability to find common ground with even the most hardheaded antagonist. He studied law but volunteered as a teacher for street children in his own time. He was always busy but equally available to talk with friends or other students who, in spite of his relatively young age, marvelled at his mind. Once Jamshid’s coffin arrived in Macroyan, it was carried beneath a fabric tent where female family and friends wailed, screamed and sobbed as more than a hundred men waited on the concrete road outside, shaking their heads and clicking their tongues each time a howl went up from the women, as if to acknowledge their pain. From there, a procession of vehicles crawled through a dust storm, past the ancient hilltop fort of Bala Hissar and a lakebed that transforms into a giant sporting field once the spring rainfall dries up each year. At the base of a hill that marks the southern edge of the capital, Jamshid’s coffin was draped in green velvet and carried to the edge of an open grave.
Amongst the congregation were a number of fellow university students, some nursing bandaged arms and hands after the ordeal on Wednesday night. Others had never met Jamshid but came to pay their respects nonetheless, In Afghanistan, burials are traditionally the domain of men. After seeing the dead one last time at the family home before burial, it’s not until the following day that women are able to mourn at the grave. Today however, a group of young women – small but significant – were present to farewell their friend and brother. As men filled in the grave with shovels, Jamshid’s sister, Angiza, was passed a handful of dusty earth. She lent forward over her brother and let the dirt slide through her fingers.
quilty-22 DAY  20, 24 August 2016:What was supposed to be another quiet night in – working into the night with a break for takeaway food and a nightcap later on – was interrupted at 7:15pm by the news of an explosion and ensuing attack at the American University of Afghanistan in southern Kabul. Sune and I grabbed our things and jumped in the car with his fixer, Mukhtar, who sped us through mostly oncoming traffic, on the wrong side of the road. We called another housemate and asked him to take care of our food when it arrived. With the neighbourhood blacked out and the government Quick Reaction Force only just rolling in, in columns of armoured Humvees, the area outside the university was eerily quiet under the circumstances. The most well-known of Afghan photojournalists, Pulitzer Prize-winner Massoud Hosseini was tweeting from inside a classroom in the university. “Help we are stuck inside AUAF and shooting followed by Explo this maybe my last tweets.” I later learned that he and the others had barricaded themselves inside using tables and chairs to block the door as attackers attempted to blow it in with grenades. Several people jumped from the second story windows to escape. With little news emerging from outside the university and a legion of Kabul cameramen clambering over one another to get vision of injured survivors being carried to idling ambulances, we decided to leave and head for Emergency Hospital, an Italian NGO that caters specifically for the war-wounded. The staff were typically calm despite having received close to 20 patients already, with the number expected to rise through the night.
quilty-44DAY 07, 9th August 2016: “Three weeks ago, just a few kilometres towards the centre of Kabul from this barren hilltop, a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the centre of a crowd gathered for a peaceful demonstration. More than 80 mostly ethnic Hazaras were killed. 250 more were wounded. It was the worst single attack in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of 2001. The so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility, a first in the Afghan capital. The following day, with the help of an earthmover, more than 20 of the dead were buried here on the far southern outskirts of the city.Sadly, in Kabul, such attacks often mark points in time on the calendar as much as religious or public holidays.Thursday evening, the beginning of the weekend in Afghanistan, brings mourners–both male and female–to cemeteries across Kabul, but within Islam’s essential 40 days of mourning, the mood is particularly sombre.This evening, women made their way through the rows of headstones, stopping and crouching at each to offer prayers as children ran and laughed and the men stood back, solemn and still. One walked toward me, his hands outstretched with deference, offering a small cardboard box of dates.”
quilty-55DAY  05, Tuesday 9th August:“I often refer to Danielle and Sune as my Kabul parents. I’ve been living with them in a simple but very homely Afghan-style house with a leaky mud roof and a bulging mulberry tree for six months. Before running out on some errands this afternoon, I knocked on their door down the hall from my room. The two of them and their beloved Kabul mutt Shami were having one last cuddle before heading to the airport. Danielle is getting out of Afghanistan for a few weeks of down time. Sune Engel Rasmussen is a Danish freelance writer working primarily, but not exclusively, for The Guardian. He had his first story published in the hallowed pages of Harper’s recently and in June was presented with the New Voice Award at the prestigious One World Media Awards in London, for his work in Afghanistan.Danielle Moylan is from Perth originally but met Sune, who’d just kicked off his journalism career, while working for DFAT at the Australian Embassy in Tehran a couple of years ago. Danielle recently made a foray into journalism, and after writing full-time for less than a year; she’s already graced the pages of Newsweek and The New York Times. Not surprisingly, that’s ruffled the feathers of some of the old guard amongst the press corps here. In early September you’ll find a remarkable story she’s written from Kabul in The Good Weekend.And of course Shami. Like many of the dogs taken in off the streets by foreigners, Shami arguably defines our house more than its human occupants.Originally given to Sune and Danielle to look after temporarily, the idea of sending Shami off to the U.S. to her pre-arranged adopted parents becomes harder by the day.It’s a surprisingly common conundrum for foreigners here. Street dogs are routinely rescued from garbage piles and gutters before Kabul manages to consume them. Most are taken to one of the few animal shelters, but for those who come to Afghanistan with the intention of staying some years, taking in a dog after signing a long term lease on a home with a sprawling garden is logical for many reasons. Problems have been arising of late, however, as houses are abruptly closed down, when, after security incidents, employers decide to evacuate staff from residential houses, moving them to secure and soulless compounds or outside the country altogether. While furniture can be dealt with less sentimentally, Kabul’s much-loved, but typically temperamental canines can make even the U.S.’ Afghanistan exit strategy seem straightforward.



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One response to “Revelations of Afghanistan as A War Zone: Andrew Quilty’s Photo-Journalism

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