2014 Winner

Book Award Years

Majid Saeedi - Life in War

Although I have spent my entire professional life traveling from one conflict zone to another, in the past year, for this project, I have focused exclusively on the men and women whose lives have been crushed by the war in Afghanistan, a country I have been visiting for over a decade.
In my role working for the Getty Images news service, the people of Afghanistan have been my main subject matter in these past four years that I have spent living amongst them. They have become part of my memories, both good and bad, and their happiness and sadness have become my main concern.

For the past 40 years, Afghanistan has been involved in various wars and conflicts, due to its internal politics, religion, or because other powers sought to conquer these lands. Remnants of Russian tanks are still ever-present in the streets, mountainsides and valleys. After the war with the Soviet Union, Communists seized power in the country. It was during this time that conservative Muslims started to get organized, and eventually gained power themselves. Later, they in turn became another cause of strife, this time in the civil war between Al Qaeda and the country’s regular civilians. After September 11th, the world noticed what was going on in Afghanistan and the dynamics of its civil war changed once more. This time, Afghan people faced a new war, as foreign countries squared off against al-Qaeda.

We have seen countless images of Afghanistan, particularly images of soldiers and aid workers throughout the country, but these images don’t portray the real Afghanistan in my experience. The real Afghanistan may be an image of a humble child looking at my camera lens without a smile. If you are a photojournalist in Afghanistan, you would get used to seeing these faces. For me, the real Afghanistan would be the smile on the faces of those same children when they take pictures with my camera, or in contrast, an image of women who have set themselves on fire to express their despair about their lives, images of men, women and children who have lost their arms and legs due to land mines.

I could never find out how much the portentous, traumatic passage of life has hurt these peoples' lives, as they have always remained impassive in front of my camera. I am very much interested to know how the viewer feels when seeing my images. The main question I have had during these years is: what is the result of all these wars? Every time I see a young Afghan boy or girl in the streets, as unhappy as children in European countries are happy, this question rings in my head.

War is not the only thing going on in Afghanistan. There is the influence of Persian and Mughal culture in traditional Afghan architecture and decorative garments. There is a paradox between the tranquility of Eastern culture and the violence of war.

I wonder what the characters I have photographed might think about the people viewing the images, and the world that they come from. Just imagine you were born in Afghanistan. How would you look at the world, or those countries, the only expression of which you have seen being through their armed forces and weaponry?

Sometimes it strikes me that we have a mysterious and deep connection. Even though we don't see each other, we speak empathetically, talk about the cries of a generation, the tears of hopeless children, the violence and silence of a nation. Throughout all the lonely and difficult days of war, I kept telling myself that I'm a photojournalist, in the streets of Afghanistan, with the responsibility of exploring certain realities.

I went to Afghanistan, remaining there for several years, and reaping a harvest of bittersweet memories. Sharing a common tongue, I found that I could live alongside the Afghans, understanding, laughing and crying with them.

  • A religious teacher punishes his student. The absence of a proper educational system in the country’s schools leads few children to enroll or quit school after a short period to work instead.

  • Afghan boys playing with kites among ruins in the center of Kabul.

    A salesman in the women's section of the Kandahar bazaar shows customers his wares. Despite daily incidents by a growing Taliban population in Kandahar people continue their ordinary lives in the streets of the city.

    Farhad Darya, an Afghan singer, performs in a concert in Heart.

    A military, morning prayer exercise at the police academy in Kabul.

    A group of Afghan National Army soldiers in northern Afghanistan during operations against the Islamist opposition.

    Afghan boys play in wreckage in the center of Kabul.

    An Afghan girl practices Vosho in a gym in Heart.

    Members of the Afghan National Police training at their base in the center of Kabul.

    Soldiers waiting in a queue for their daily ration of food.

    Afghans refugees live at a refugee camp in central Kabul.

    Afghans gather during the celebration of Nowruz, near the Kart-e Sakhi mosque in Kabul.

    A fighter dog standing on a hill facing Kabul city.