• Andrew Quilty in the northeastern Afghan state of Badakhshan in 2014 after two landslides buried hundreds of residents of Abi Bunder under tons of mud (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Deadly but beautiful: award-winning Australian photo-journalist Andrew Quilty shares his take on Afghanistan – the land that he now calls home.
Genevieve Dwyer

12 Aug 2016 - 10:11 AM  UPDATED 12 Aug 2016 - 10:11 AM

A lot can change in 28 days in Kabul. Andrew Quilty knows this all too well.  

“When you have a couple of big attacks in Kabul, in a short period of time, people really hunker down and their lives sort of close in a little bit,” Quilty told SBS Life ahead of the launch of 28 Days in Afghanistan, a photo journal currently in progress documenting his daily life in the country.

28 days in Afghanistan
What's it like living in war-ravaged Afghanistan? For the next 28 days, award-winning photo-journalist Andrew Quilty shares a first-hand glimpse into his life.

To an outsider, the prospect of laying low amid local suicide-attacks might sound rather terrifying. Yet, the Zen-like Quilty seems imperturbably calm as he discusses it over Skype from a café in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on a brief sojourn from the conflict-ravaged country he now calls home.

That’s not to say he doesn’t take the potential dangers very seriously though.

“Like all my friends, we take all that pretty seriously and take precautions to minimise the risk,” Quilty explains. “This year, I’ll definitely reign in the amount of exposure I have in public.”

Of course, it’s not unusual for photojournalists to make their living amid such hostile environs.

What sets the award-winning Quilty apart from the pack is his ongoing fascination with the country, which he’s called home since 2013. Just as the rest of the West seemed to have completely lost interest in the ‘forgotten war’ with troops, NGOs and foreign press withdrawing in droves, Quilty moved in.

Now one of a small minority of foreigners left behind in the wake of the war, Quilty remarks on whether that puts him more at risk than a local. “Definitely. There’s no doubt.”

He elaborates, “The odds have shortened for something to happen because of the dwindling numbers of foreigners and the increased antipathy towards the foreigners themselves.

“And it’s also become a business for the criminals or terrorists. Kidnapping’s very lucrative and if you blow up a foreign guest house it makes world-wide news so it’s very effective either way for these sorts of people.

“So we basically just give them as little opportunity to entertain those ideas as possible.”

If it seems improbable that any photographer would want to make such an inhospitable place his home, what makes it an even more extraordinary choice was that Quilty never had intention of staying so long when he first visited.  

“Originally, to begin with, I just went to have a look,” Quilty explained.

“I thought I’d just be there for two weeks with a journalist colleague and friend.

“We had a couple of story ideas that we wanted to pursue but we literally had tickets booked out of there for two weeks after we arrived.

“We ended up pushing it out and pushing it out and ended up staying three months and by the end of the three months I’d decided I wanted to live there.”

It seems that striking beauty of Afghanistan had captured Quilty’s imagination and he was hooked.

It’s kind of hard to point a camera in any direction in Afghanistan without pointing it at something that’s deeply imbued with poignancy

Explaining just what it is that he finds so inspiring about the country he says, “Purely as a photographer I find it a very photogenic place.

“Purely on a very visual, aesthetic level, the light’s very nice. It’s a spectacular country in terms of the mountains and deserts. It’s kind of extreme weather and it’s quite and inhospitable landscape. That always makes for quite a spectacular backdrop to work as a photographer.

“But on top of that, it’s really the stories that are beneath those images. I often say it’s kind of hard to point a camera in any direction in Afghanistan without pointing it at something that’s deeply imbued with poignancy.”

That rather poetic statement is certainly ringing true with the photos that Quilty has shared so far in the 28 Days project he has embarked on with SBS.

On what he hopes he will achieve over the course of the project, Quilty says “I think, as I kind of try and do with my Instagram feed, what I like to do is surprise people a bit.”

He explains, “To show very normal, mundane moments of life in a place like Afghanistan but moments that people from the other side of the world might not expect to see from a place like that.

“That often means similarities between cultures that you might not expect. Being Afghanistan, that often means depicting the hardship. On top of the hardship there’s often telling little snippets of stories about how people survive – or what people can survive and flourish through. 

“So I think a bit of a mixture of that – hope and hardship, and within it all, the element of surprise.”

Follow Andrew’s journey across his 28 Days in Afghanistan HERE and check back daily to his new photos and their accompanying stories.


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