A Lance For Humanity by Peter Byrne – Afghanistan CameraOscura Book Review

A Lance For Humanity by Peter Byrne – Afghanistan CameraOscura Book Review

Torsello, Gabriele: Afghanistan CameraOscura 2011, KASH GT, Alessano, Italy, ISBN 978-88-906173-0-0, 180 color photos, 320 pages, €35. (An English language version of the Italian edition is in preparation.)

(Swans – April 23, 2012)   There’s something wrong in calling Gabriele Torsello a freelance. He had to dub himself one in Kashmir and in Afghanistan to explain to the authorities why he was there. But it’s impossible to imagine him wielding any kind of arm, even a blunted mediaeval spear. He is so obviously a man of peace that he stands out as such even on his native ground in the heel Italy, which is known for preferring a good sleep to anything so sweaty as violence.

Gabriele — he’s someone who lends himself to first names, no introduction needed — also stands out by his appearance in this region of tame, small towns, olive groves, and dry, red earth edged by the sea. Underneath he’s a solid, Southern Italian of medium height in his forties. A closer look reveals nerve-free body language. The persona on top, in scholar’s spectacles, sports an untrimmed beard of the bushy sort worthy of an imam or, with appropriate headgear, an Orthodox Jew. Both are scarce items in these parts. Clothes may not make the man, but they can go some way toward a remake. Dress was part of Gabriele’s project.

Afghanistan CameraOscura tells in words of Gabriele’s quest in 2001 to enter that country and how he finally managed to cross the border in 2005. Quest may not be the best word for his being kidnapped and held as a hostage in 2006. But though it sounds pretentious and evokes a smile and the idea of windmills under assault, quest is nevertheless the right word for Gabriele’s intentions. At one point he tells us he is engaged in a one-man Jihad for the liberty of the press. He believes passionately in photo journalism, not as a political weapon or as blood and guts porn or as a well-paid career, but as a record of what everyday life is like. His pictures of Afghans aren’t clever, cute, or even tragic. They are not primarily beautiful. They simply say that this is how most people live there just now.

Gabriele had been in Kashmir and in 2003 published The Heart of Kashmir (Kash GT, ISBN-10:0954224507, 192 pages, with photos). He lived with ordinary folk to see what life was like caught between the long, cruel Indian occupation and Pakistan’s thrusting ambition. It was at Srinegar he became a Muslim. Reading the Koran he was surprised to find the values he had always prized contained in a religion. When asked if similar values weren’t found at home, Gabriele, now also Abudur Rahaman or Kash Gabriele, answered, “Yes.” However, he explained, religion in Europe was a Sunday-only affair. Among his new Kashmiri friends it was “a constant presence that conditioned every hour of the day, making God truly omnipresent.” For Gabriele it was their religion that made “Kashmir and Kashmiris so special and unique.”

In 2001 the Taliban governed Afghanistan. Gabriele, determined to photograph Afghan life, left Kashmir, and took a bus through Pakistan to Peshawar, the frontier town facing Afghanistan. There he began a patient struggle at the Taliban embassy to acquire a visa. He met with refusals of every sort, often contradictory. Weeks passed. He became a fixture around the embassy and hung out with the staff. Finally, maybe to get rid of him, he was given the necessary papers. He immediately booked a seat in a taxi for Kabul. The trip stopped short of the border. Officials told him he would have to go back.

George W. Bush, making a statement after 9/11, had begun to bomb Afghanistan. The Taliban, who refused to hand over their guest, Osama bin Laden, were also routinely executing journalists as spies. The taxi was going on, but Gabriele stood beside it at the roadblock, undecided.

A Mercedes drew up with a sign in the window marked “Press.” Out popped an Americanized Afghan named Aziz Hadari who worked for Reuters. Then comes a snatch of humor. Hadari said: “Your threads are fantastic! White shalwar-kameez, tight black jacket, long beard and hair. You look like a real Afghan, a Talib Al-ll.” Gabriele had to refuse to have his picture taken by the Reuters man. Hadari insisted that being stopped at the road block was easily overcome by a bribe. Gabriele should come along with him to Kabul. But the Italian, with his usual good sense on the rim of a volcano, said no thanks. Hadari and the three other journalists in his car were killed before they reached Kabul. As for Gabriele, all dressed up for Afghanistan, he wouldn’t enter the country till 2005.

The Taliban had been driven from power by then. The U.S. had set up the Hamid Karsai government at the end of 2004 and unleashed more dogs of war. Third Millennium killer technology, in coalition with bullied partners, ravaged a country of poor farmers and herdsmen. It was time to flee the place, not to play the tourist, and no wonder everyone, friend and foe, suspected Gabriele of naiveté or some dastardly contrivance. Had they seen the pictures he took, which fill this book, they might have changed their minds. [……] CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING THE FULL BOOK REVIEW BY PETER BYRNE

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