In a village in Khost Province, Afghanistan, you’ll find a community garden, run by a group of brothers and their cousin. There’s a board there that reads, “You can take a flower, but you have to share a cup of tea.” In the district of Tani, where the brothers live, it’s tradition for men to tuck flowers into their Pakol hats. Last September, and then again in the spring, the photojournalist Oriane Zerah spent the day with the brothers. She photographed the brothers in their hats, and she stayed for a meal.
Now, one of her portraits from the pink and turquoise house belonging to Batshazullah, the cousin of the brothers, in Khost Province is part of a photography print and NFT sale, organized by ISHKAR. All of the proceeds will go to EMERGENCY, an organization providing free and high-quality healthcare to survivors of war, poverty, and landmines, and their hospitals in Afghanistan. Every minute, a patient receives care through EMERGENCY.
Last year, ISHKAR raised $123,000 for the cause. This year, Zerah is one of nineteen leading photographers who have donated their work. The 2022 print sale comes in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake; the deadliest in twenty years, the earthquake killed at least 1,150 people and wounded at least 1,500. Medical professionals were among the victims. The sale is open through the end of the month, offering one-time prices for an extraordinary collection of images (prints starting at £85).
Not all the photographs included in the sale were made in Afghanistan, but many were. Some paint a nuanced portrait of the country’s (very) recent history. Andrew Quilty, while documenting America’s final days in Afghanistan, bears witness as evacuees try to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport amid the Taliban’s taking of Kabul one year ago. Elise Blanchard covers demonstrations in Kabul, as women and girls advocate for the reopening of a girl’s secondary school, this spring.
At the same time, the collection focuses on the timeless rhythms of ordinary, everyday life, which somehow persists and triumphs amid ever-changing circumstances. In 2002, Steve McCurry photographed a horse at the Band-i-Amir lakes, an azure oasis set between idyllic cliffsides. A decade later, Matthieu Paley traveled to Chaqmaqtin lake in winter. There, he met members of the Kyrgz nomadic community, taking in the view of their yaks grazing against the towering Pamir mountains.
And beyond the beauty of the country, its landscape, and its caretakers, there are also moments of resilience, joy, and friendship waiting to be discovered within some of these pictures. In one, Farshad Usyan takes us to the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, where he was born and raised. There, he watched as children played on an ice cream cart, cast in silhouette by the setting sun.
“They were child laborers, like many more children on the streets hustling as breadwinners of their families,” he remembers. “I had gone for a picnic with friends to the Shadyan mountains. I realized it would be sunset soon, and I would have a two-minute window of sunlight. I found a spot where I could see the street clearly as foreground, and then I waited there ’til the sun [crossed the horizon] when I saw the ice-cream sellers coming down the hill.
“I noticed their happiness after a long day of hard work. The next day, they would have another tough, dark day. They were child laborers, but they had a future ahead of them, and they had a feeling of freedom [in that moment]. I had in my mind that this light was an exemplary definition of [the idea that] ‘there will be light beyond darkness.'” The title of that photograph: Splendid Sunset.