Afghanistan is a country with a long and difficult history, like many other nations, including our own (the United Kingdom). Freedom comes at a cost and sacrifices unfortunately need to be made. On a basic level its just that people desire a simple life, they have few needs, but they crave a safe place to live to let their children grow up.
The Afghans are no different to us in this respect, but they are of course different culturally. Yes this is a Muslim country but yet the culture is very different to that of Iraq which is also Muslim. There is almost always a pride in any nation or culture and this place is no different. People are people wherever you go. They sleep, eat (although diets vary), socialise, crap, laugh, cry and dream Fundamentally they are the same as you or I.
Afghanistan will manage itself, it has to and it is naive to think that they don’t already, but their cultural make up is very different to ours. They manage themselves on a much more intimate level, where each village is an entity separate from other villages around them. Here in Helmand, the people don’t really care what is going on in Kabul, they have no desire to own a 50 inch plasma TV, almost all of them don’t even own a TV, few have radios or a car.
This is not a wealthy place in our terms yet is described as the bread basket of Afghanistan for its mineral rich soil. They will grow what they can sell here, poppy or wheat, what ever will help them feed their families. We would be no different I am sure. Should they really care what the west thinks they should grow? Existence here is tough, unbearably hot in the summer and freezing and wet in the winter.
This is a country of extremes. ISAF can not be here for ever, the government knows that, the people do too and the transition is moving on full speed towards a comprehensive security cover by its own forces. When the security forces are left to deal with any problems themselves which I am sure they will do, I have no doubt that they will manage. There will be hardships, but transition is a necessary step to grasp their own future. Only Afghanistan can ultimately choose its own path.
I wanted these images to show humanity, mood, character and highlight that upbringing notwithstanding we are the same. I don’t speak any Pashtun or Dari (the two main languages spoken here in Helmand), and as a photographer I like to communicate with people, to direct a little for light and composition (at times), this was quite hard initially and to be honest I found the Afghans play up to the camera a bit and pose with ridiculous expressions. I have over the weeks developed a basic sign language to try to direct them a tiny bit at least. A funny thing happened the other day when I was out photographing some local Afghans during an operation, I had been out a while and was tired and saw this young guy who I wanted to photograph, he was back lit (a look I really don’t mind), so I got the shot. After I showed him the image he gestured to me to take another, he pointed at the sun and changed his position relative to the sun. This was not something I thought I would have been able to get across in my basic sign language. I did prefer the second shot though!