Today, even after 12 years of Afghanistan's "emancipation" from the Taliban, the only photos we see are of Taliban fighters, destruction and war. Oppression, lawlessness, corruption and hopelessness are associated with this central Asian country.
After spending 3/4 of my life in the United States I had also forgotten the real Afghanistan that Joe Hoyt captures in his photos.
Six years ago, I met Joe when we were panelists at an event in San Francisco. I was brought to tears as I spent hours going from one photo to the next and really absorbing what I was seeing. They reminded me of the Afghanistan I once knew, "From an Era of Peace", so perfectly named. Joe captured these images during his five adventure filled trips to Afghanistan from 1970-1975.
Yes, there was a time when Afghans did not wake up to new bombings every day. They could travel without being shot at and they could send their children to school without fear. Joe captures that time with elegance, honesty and love. “Bus Top” is one of my favorite photos. It reminds me of my family road trips from Kabul to Ghazni when we passed the central bus stop on the outskirts of Kabul and saw colorful and intricately decorated buses all dolled up like brides waiting for their grooms to sweep them off their feet.
As a little girl how I wished to ride on one of those buses rather than in our orange Volkswagen bug. In “Bus Top”, you can really see the joy in the passengers’ faces, perhaps the true essence of an Afghan: their need for independence, their stubbornness in doing things their way and their resilience. In each of these amazing photos, Joe depicts the peace, the freedom and the optimism that all Afghans shared at that time in history.
These photos are an artistic account of a time that should not be forgotten and a stark reminder for us, not to give up on Afghanistan and its people.
On November 13th, Joe’s photos will go on display at the beautiful Afghan Center at Kabul University. It is the first time Afghans in Afghanistan will view these photos.
Joe’s photos have been exhibited in San Francisco, Fremont, San Jose and Belmont, California. Other locations in the U.S. include Miami, Aspen, and Easton, Maryland. The photos have also visited Coventry in the UK and Calgary, Canada.
“Afghanistan - Images From An Era Of Peace”
50 black and white photographs from 1970 -1975
by Joseph Hoyt
November 12 - December 12th, 2013
Opening Reception - Hamed Mubarez and Jawad Jalali
Afghanistan Center at Kabul University
Open and free to the public
Exhibit Sponsors: Dupree Foundation and The Aga Khan Trust for Culture
I asked Joe to select five of his favorite photos from this exhibit. Each photo has a introduction by Joe and an accompanying Rumi poem translated by Coleman Barks.
Nineteen Boys – A great kids photo, but the back story is the essence. Otherwise a bunch of characters running the streets, behaving well and learning to read the Koran. Possibly the only book they’ll ever hold in their lives.
A swift stream never gets bored
with the fish that swim in it.
Nor do those fish weary
of feeling the flow around them.
No. This world loves its lovers,
and those lovers never tire of being
so dear and near what bears them along.
Village of Lash – e – Jouayn – An ancient and uber- mysterious place in the desert unlikely to ever be seen by any tourist. The town is located way past Farah in Nimruz Province. I rode the bus out there.
Find your place and close your eyes,
so your heart can start to see.
When you give up being self-absorbed,
your being becomes a great community.
Dusty Kabul Backstreet –The old and the new juxtaposed in the dark -- full of questions.
I wander through the towns of this world,
leaving them each to those in charge
of decorating them for festivals.
Like a boat drifting on the ocean
with no set direction, one afternoon
resting in a caravanserai, that night,
starting out for somewhere else.
Stepping Stones – A frozen moment, one leg up another down. Like a Cartier-Bresson, what a capture is meant to be, pure chance.
I love the soul that lets my soul
stay healthy, growing
like an orchard, a garden.
He brings symbols through me
to show the world.
Then at other times,
he clears my consciousness
to be transparent like himself.
Clouds and Poplars – Unlike all the others; this shows the solitude, grandeur and beauty of the natural aspects of Afghanistan. A sole Afghan is walking the road to --- where?
This is how I would die
into the love I have for you:
as pieces of cloud
dissolve in sunlight.
All Rumi verses compliments of
and © Coleman Barks, All rights reserved.
Humaira Ghilzai of
Afghan Culture Unveiled interviews Joe Hoyt about this historical exhibit:
Humaira: What does it mean to you to have these photos exhibited in Afghanistan?
This is an interesting opportunity to actually see what impact the images have
after all. Unlike in the west, photographs do not have an aspect to them where
they are viewed as art or have innate historical significance.
Some of the most appreciative audiences have been Afghans living in the United
States. The thing is, the photos are likely to be viewed by individuals who
have not seen images of what their very own country was like before 35 plus
years of war and upheaval. I’m sure some
aspects will seem more or less what they experience even today.
As international forces are set to leave Afghanistan in
2014, I would hope the collection will help set the stage to engender ethnic
co-operation, pride in national identity, appreciation for the rich and
remarkable history of the nation the resilience of the Afghan people.
Humaira: Why do you think there is so much interest in your
photos? After all, over the past 12
years many new photographers and filmmakers have created beautiful work in
Afghanistan. What intrigues people about
Clearly, mine are compelling because of the era – well before the nation was
overrun by the Russians and before the civil war, before the Taliban and before
foreign occupation. I am unaware of any other vintage collections from that time
period being toured around for exhibition.
the key factor is they are for the most part black and white. They are riveting because they are personal,
they are honest, un-posed, they are candid and in the moment captures. All are in natural light and taken
one-on-one; perhaps it is even because they are naïve and unadorned. I was a 21
– 22 year old using my wits and, dare I say charm, to approach common people to
take their photos. The trust shows in
the subject’s faces (most of the time anyway). You do not see the hollow-eyed
visages visible in so many images taken during the years of terror and fear.
Humaira: How did you go from creating the booklet to finding
exhibits around the U.S. and in Europe?
Joe: After San Francisco where we met, I came away encouraged the exhibition would
have wider interest, but had no idea how to go about marketing it. I found a group specializing in traveling
photo exhibits and contracted with them.
They booked some exhibits but I mostly arrange them myself. Some US
universities might be a good place. And
I’d love to do an exhibit in DC and maybe San Francisco again!
Humaira: Tell us about your collaboration with Coleman Barks
(Rumi expert and student of Sufism) for this exhibit.
Joe: In May 2012, I sent a letter to Mr. Barks that included a
copy of my book. I told him about my
photos, the intent of my work and so on. I asked if he might be interested in
and have time to match up some Rumi quatrains with my photos.
months later I received a reply. He
thought the photos were great, but did not have time. He sent a copy of The Big Red Book as a really nice gift.
months later Coleman (we now use our first names) changed course and sent me
four quatrains! Some time went by – I received more! Some unpublished verses! I used them in an exhibit at the local museum
when the work was exhibited.
You can see six of the
verses on my website. To date, I have received 16
verses selected to go along with certain photos. The others will be posted soon.