Monday, February 04, 2013

Review: The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

My latest technique for finding good books to read has been to troll the New Book section at the library. It insures I see a variety of subjects and has allowed me to find some really unusual and fun books. Though, after my last find, I'd hit a kind of slump. I borrowed a handful of books and none of them kept my attention for more than a few pages. While I was poking around the New Books section, I saw that the Graphic Novel section was nearby, so I thought I'd check out the selection there. I expected I'd pick up some dark noir thriller, instead, I found the Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders.

The Photographer is the story of Didier Lefèvre's journey into 1986 warn torn Afghanistan. The format of the text is immediately striking. Here's a few quick snapshots:

What you're seeing there is a more or less traditional graphic novel (read: fancy comic book) mixed in with black and white snapshots that Didier has taken along the way.

The format turns out to be absolutely marvelous. The hand drawn story works well, and I found it effortless to follow. And the snapshots re-frame the text as something stunning and real. There's something special about having a picture in your head about a pass or scene, and them bam! you see it as it actually was.

The format alone, though, doesn't give you the whole pictures as to why this book was such a page turner. No, what drives that is the remarkable story. Didier took me on one heck of an arm chair adventure that I just didn't want to put to down. From learning about Afghan customs (hint: never pee standing up, that's taboo - only animals do that), to witnessing the horrors of war, to savoring the joy of overcoming remarkable physical hardships and creating lasting life time bonds. This book has it all. It's hard not to walk away at least a little inspired at those who will do anything to make life better for others.

And then there's the photography aspect of the book. Imagine a 3 month long trek into the wilderness, where exhaustion, disease, war and nature all serve as an impediment. Where you snap picture after picture and have no way to know if even one has come out. Where your film or cameras could be ruined in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. And then to return home with a 195 rolls of film, and just hope that your efforts weren't in vain. Think about that, 195 roles. At 36 exposures per role, that's about 7,000 photos. On our last 1 week vacation, I shot round 2000 photos. I simply can't imagine traveling for 3 months and trying squeeze all that into 200 rolls of film.

Yet, Didier pulled it off. And his images are wonderful.

There's so much to learn from this book, I'm truly greatfull I took the time to read it.

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