Yesterday I went shopping. I've had a $50 gift card to Chapters burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas, and I finally decided what to do with it. I was going to buy The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby, which I got out of the library a couple of months ago and saw it would be a great reference book to own.
When I got there, however, they didn't have any copies left of the CS2 book, only the CS3. So I browsed the photography section, and along with the 2008 Photographer's Market, I decided to get Forsaken by Lana Slezic.
Immediately I knew this was a special book. It is the only book I own that I won't look at or hold if I'm eating or drinking. Something about it makes me want to keep it pristine.
What started as a six-week assignment in Afghanistan for Canadian photographer Lana Slezic quickly lengthened into a two-year project. She and her friend/translator, Farazan, quietly travelled the country, speaking to Afghan women and listening to their stories. Over and over again she heard horrible stories of forced marriages, abuse, illiteracy, murder and suicide, stories that made it clear that the end of the Taliban has not freed Afghan women in any meaningful way. I flipped through the pages in the bookstore enough to identify a collection of beautiful photos, more engaging than any of the other photo books on the shelves. That it was created by a Canadian woman was a bonus.
Last night I sat down to go through the book more slowly, cover to cover. I was transfixed and finished it in one sitting. I can't imagine how tightly edited the colletion must be, since Slezic spent two years shooting, and I found the structure of the book really enhanced my experience and exploration of the images. The preface by Deborah Ellis situates these photos and stories in a country destroyed by a quarter-century of war.
I'm normally a pretty quick viewer of photos; I decide very quickly whether I think it is good or bad, beautiful or boring, then move on. I rarely spend time lingering over an image, but I did with many of the images in Forsaken.
The text is concise and it seems to me that rather than trying to tell every story Slezic heard, the stories are included only as an introduction to the magnitude of the force oppressing women in Afghanistan. The stories are an entry to the photos, where the real narrative is. In the images, we see women gathered in a dress shop, covered in burkas, the mannequins behind them modelling the dresses that must be hidden on the real-life women. We see a woman weeping on a crude, snow-covered grave, her head pressed to the stone. We see hands holding photos, a single eye illuminated by a strip of sunlight in darkness, we see burkas, we see children playing and living in crumbling buildings. And those are just a few of what linger in my mind, more than 12 hours after my last viewing. If a photo has a story with it, you only find out after you turn the page, and none of the photos have captions, which forced me to examine the photos for information. I was pleased to discover captions for all the photos at the back of the book, but by the time I got there, I was resigned to experiencing the photos on their own terms. If you enjoy photography and feminism, I definitely recommend this book.
You can see most of the images from the book at Slezic's website and several of her other projects. All of her images are simply beautiful. She's working on her next book, which will collect images of her family's home town, Dubrovnik, Croatia.