Paula Bronstein’s Afghanistan Between Hope and Fear is a photojournalist’s 15-year study of Afghanistan.

15 Years of Hope and Fear in Afghanistan

15 Years of Hope and Fear in Afghanistan

Behold
The Photo Blog
Aug. 3 2016 10:11 AM

15 Years of Hope and Fear in Afghanistan

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Kabul, Afghanistan. March 22, 2015. Relatives, friends, and women’s rights activists grieve at the home of Farkhunda Malikzada, who was killed by a mob in the center of Kabul. Farkhunda was beaten and set on fire after a local cleric accused her of burning a Quran.

Paula Bronstein

Paula Bronstein has seen a lot of Afghanistan since she first visited the country nearly 15 years ago during the first few months of the American invasion in October 2001.

Bronstein returned many times after that initial assignment, often working on stories of her own volition that covered politics, health care, education, and women’s rights. One-hundred and fourteen of her images that speak to Afghanistan’s complex history and culture have now been published as a new book by University of Texas Press titled Afghanistan: Between Hope and Fear.

Bronstein said she and her publisher wanted to provide viewers with a look at Afghan culture that wasn’t getting play in the press. “We can have this book be something different about Afghanistan,” Bronstein said.

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Creating wide parameters, however, doesn’t make the editing process simple, especially since the book isn’t organized chronologically. “I hated it,” Bronstein said about the editing process. She consulted with fellow photojournalists about the most powerful photographs to include and then worked with a designer who “really got” the idea behind the edit.

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Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan. Sept. 2, 2007. Afghan students recite prayers in a makeshift outdoor classroom. The Wakhan Corridor is a mountainous region in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China. It separates Tajikistan from India and Pakistan. As of 2010, the Wakhan Corridor had 12,000 inhabitants.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. Nov. 25, 2009. White pigeons take off as Afghans come to feed the birds at the Blue Mosque.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kabul, Afghanistan. March 1, 2002. Mahbooba stands against a bullet-ridden wall, waiting to be seen at a medical clinic. The 7-year-old girl suffers from leishmaniasis, a parasticial infection.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Surobi, Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan. Feb. 7, 2009. An elderly man holds his granddaughter in their tent at a refugee camp after they were forced to flee their village, which U.S. and NATO forces had bombed becuase, they claimed, it was a Taliban hideout.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kabul, Afghanistan. April 5, 2014. Burqa-clad women wait to vote after a polling station ran out of ballots.

Paula Bronstein

Bronstein and her publisher also wanted to make sure there was a strong female component to the book, so they asked foreign correspondents Kim Barker and Christina Lam to write the forward and essay.

Bronstein noted that because she is a woman, some stories were easier for her to tackle then her male colleagues, although she was never guaranteed access. “Sometimes it worked in my favor when I was able to get good access,” she said. “[Women] were comfortable with me photographing them and happy I cared. … I could also be shut out pretty easily if the father or in-law or brother or some male head of the household decided they didn’t want for me to come back again.”

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Left: Herat, Afghanistan. Oct. 21, 2004. Mariam, who is 20 years old and nine months pregnant here, shows the scars that resulted from her suicide attempt three months earlier. Devastated by an abusive, violent marriage, she doused herself with household fuel and set it alight, subsequently spending 28 days in the hospital. She now lives with her mother, and her husband is moving back in with her and her 2-year-old daughter. Right: Kandahar, Afghanistan. Oct. 13, 2009. Attiullah, 7, a patient at Mirwais Hospital, stands alongside an X-ray showing the bullet that entered his back, nearly killing him. Attiullah was shot by U.S. forces when he was caught in crossfire as he was herding sheep.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kandahar, Afghanistan. Dec. 12, 2010. U.S. Army Sgt. Jay Kenney (right), with Task Force Destiny, helps wounded Afghan National Army soldiers exit a Blackhawk helicopter after they had been rescued in an air mission.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kabul, Afghanistan. April 10, 2015. Naiz Bibi, who was blinded in one eye, claims she is 68 but really can't remember clearly. After a NATO air strike killed seven members of her family, including her husband, a daughter, and two sons, she and eight remaining family members fled north, ending up in the squalid Nasaji Bagrami camp along with thousands of other war refugees.

Paula Bronstein

Even though the book is finished, Bronstein said her work in Afghanistan is “definitely not done,” and she continues to seek out untold stories that happen in a county that is often forgotten as focus turns to other troubled areas around the world.  “Every photographer who has done a book will tell you at some point you have to pull the plug,” she said. “I’m going back and covering issues I care about, covering stories that handle the legacy of the war because they’re underreported for the most part.”

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As for the title of the book?

“It’s probably more fear now than hope, to be honest,” she said.

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Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan. Sept. 6, 2009. Swan paddle boats lie beached at the edge of one of the six lakes in Band-e-Amir National Park, which attracts tourists from across the country. Located in central Afghanistan, near the Bamiyan Buddhas, the area was declared Afghanistan’s first national park on April 22, 2009.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kabul, Afghanistan. Aug. 6, 2007. Afghan bodybuilders compete in the 55-60kg category during a regional bodybuilding competition. Bodybuilding is a very popular sport in Afghanistan, a country where men like the image of being physically strong. It’s affordable for most Afghans, and its popularity is growing in many provinces. Photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger are still hanging in many local gyms as their iconic image of a muscle-bound male.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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Kabul, Afghanistan. Nov. 21, 2014. Eid Muhammad, 70, lives in a house with a view overlooking the hills of Kabul. He and millions of other Afghans occupy land and housing without possessing formal deeds to them.

Paula Bronstein

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.