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Burke and Norfolk: Photographs from the war In Afghanistan

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well I think the first thing I say is that when I first came to Afghanistan about the same age as John Burke and Afghanistan made John Burke I'd like to say the same thing for me really you know really completely altered my career so the two of us has some things little bit in common with each other and as it happens I know interesting landscape like he is so there's a few things that sort of parallel with each other you know I'm coming with a different aim Burke is completely embedded inside the British Empire and and dies in India in 1900 a never goes back to Ireland so he's a complete creature of the Empire for me this war this current war is a tragedy as an imperial game is a folly this is the fourth anger Afghan war so as far as I'm concerned and it's going as laughably stupidly misguidedly wrong as the previous three so my opinion and Burke's opinion about what the war consists of a completely different but I think that doesn't mean that I can't move in his shadow as he moves through Afghanistan [Music] Burke was a successful commercial photographer and clearly the outbreak of the Afghan war represented a commercial opportunity for him it represented an opportunity to photograph a country that had received no photographic coverage essentially up till that time so not only was he documenting a war he also took the opportunity to take portraits of Representative types of Afghan of monuments architecture landscape it may be useful to think of this work in terms of Simon Norfolk's work where it's not a crude before-and-after approached the same subjects but he's looking at the implications of war in Afghanistan and using Burke's approach in a sense to create a more nuanced view of behind the scenes in a war zone and of course I'm a Norfolk uses similar technical means to do that which of course places him much more in a tradition of slow considered photography than what we generally think of as war photography I was told you could go walk around freely to see in Kabul and I was told that if I go to couple I would need to take security with me and I would need to pay to have you know security carts I would need to travel around in an armored 4x4 well I spent seven weeks walk around Kabul I met people at the British Embassy who've never been outside the compact because they think is too scary and they cannot believe that I spent seven weeks with nothing more than a local Afghan guy in his car driving around Kabul wooden shooting pigeon on the streets of Kabul it was hairy and a few occasions it would there are dangerous but it's possible to do it and I would say if you call yourself a journalist you were obliged to do it rather than come to Afghanistan live inside some armored compound in a five-star hotel and then tell me that you're reporting from Afghanistan you were not you were reporting from an armored compound a westernized armored compound in a five-star hotel I wanted to try and find myself some of the places where there may have been more as a sort of romantic gesture of following in his footsteps rather than a scientific really optical process the city is ringed by these mountains and in fact sometimes when I'm trying to shoot the views and the only thing I can use to work out where to shoot from is the shape of the Ridgeline because everything between me and the ridge line is completely altered you know an entire city has been inserted into that space and the only thing that I can go from is the ridge line and I spend a lot of time on Google Earth using Google Earth as a tool to try and work out where these rigid lines were and then panning back in a line until I found a hill and then that's probably the hill that burkha stood on today the pictures when I first came across Berk when I was at the National Museum of Photography and Bradford national media museum aground and they have one album of the very early part of Burke's work 1879 the first part of the Afghan war and one of the librarians there just took me aside and said we I know you're injured in Afghanistan have you seen this and he showed me this album in the archives and the quality of it was so obviously so gorgeous that the idea of teaming up with Burke producing a piece of work there was a kind of collaboration with him was also a kind of archeological act it was almost as if you'd found something in Afghanistan in the earth that you'd have to chisel something out of the out of the rock face and blow the dust off it and and rediscover this thing in a sort of archaeological way or even like a sort a piece of forensic evidence of a crime it is an evidence of a crime so that sort of forensic archaeological thing that interests me a great deal that idea of discovering this thing in Afghanistan blowing a dust off and bringing you back to an international audience in a big gallery it uses me enormously the 111 years after Burke's death he's getting his first major show in the UK all of the same stuff that was happening in 1840 in 1880 in 1919 at the 3rd I'm Afghan war and nowadays it's just a like a history repeating itself time and time again clerks relationship with imperialism is that he's an Irishman he's a Catholic he probably has a thick Irish accent and he's a tradesman and so that places him in in a completely different position visibly the British imperial class system he has right at the bottom of the English social order so he has a very very different social position and all of that is reflected in the photography [Music] the comparator that really excites me is between the word that John Burke is producing in 1879 and the work that is pouring out like some kind of you know sewer pipe with a crack in the side of it which is the kind of billion pitches per hour of modern photo journals and which is coming out this country Camp Leatherneck was just wounded us two years ago and now it's a city of 15,000 people with a road system tarmac roads a police force of sewage farmer garbage disposal system electricity supply system Kandahar Airfield 30,000 people live here it's a it's a small American city the airport is the size of Gatwick Airport mega deja kashimoto a special musical mechnimals Asian asparagus baccarat mutalisk Amir a family which is nestled - karma - wa I want you guys to notice here when one marine is running to the next cover another in a shooting that's how you guys need to be as well watch identity marine and a yo se que yo le yo Dan scary Oh yo ii yo ii yo TC top of the Mazda shaakira hemoptysis reggaeton Jakarta Marino Connection Academy connemara aquí de guiche depreciable zebra Bassam de Tigre are you ready Nadia no come on dude okay alright so I can have you looking this this way and if you could look over here I think if you look in the lens okay good and if you could look over towards for a Jeep if you could look over towards the Jeep as well if you could look a Burlington and if you could look a little bit higher like this it's a hit here [Music] [Music] the logistical trail that follows behind these soldiers in the field is absolutely colossal get the impression of these armies and these modern armies as these fast logistical monstrous caravans carrying all of this technological wealth into these countries surrounding it of barbed wire waiting finally to user so I wants to photograph the bases as these kind of great treasure trove of material wealth endless kind of treasure trove of material wealth as far as the eye can see [Applause] [Music] why [Music] [Laughter] [Music] [Music] the beauty of these things is only ever tactical you know the reason why I'm here is not to make beautiful pictures the reason here is to articulate the anger of my politics about what's happening in this war and the brutality that's being visited on Afghanistan by barbarians imperialists just another wave of sorry imperialists with the same stupid delusions at last long and the same murderous incompetence so that's the thing that I want to articulate the beauty thing is just the vehicle for it's just a vehicle by making the pitch is very beautiful you are almost tricked into into coming inside that photograph space for a while and engaging with it and beginning a conversation with a photograph and then by surprise you might find that you've listened to a whole lot of my arguments which you probably wouldn't have bother to listen to if I hadn't seduced you into that space into that dialogue so beauty has always been a kind of tactical thing for me if I thought I could get across the points that I want to make without beauty then I would dump Beauty tomorrow but right now beauty is a useful tool I'm trying to photograph my disappointment I think when I came in 2001 I was angry about what the Americans have done I thought it was a mistake I thought they should have done a deal with the Taliban if they really wanted to some of in Laden and but at least I thought that there was some kind of opportunity and then what I've seen over that opportunity has seen that not just squandered but taken outside and had that its head smashed in with a baseball bat again and again and again ten sorry miserable years upon by half a trillion half a trillion dollars has been spent in this country and it looks worse than it was I've been photographing everything into a kind of pre-dawn and a post sunset light much bluer more melancholy more disappointed light really a disappointment you know ten years of warfare thousands and thousands tens of thousands of Afghans lots of Europeans and Americans killed as well billions wasted and nothing achieved nothing nothing nothing achieved