The internationally renowned Afghan-born photographer Zalmaï was forced to flee to Switzerland at the age of 15 after the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As a freelance photographer, Zalmaï has spent years capturing the human cost of disintegration and dispossession caused by war around the world and in his home country, Afghanistan, where he also sees signs of hope. Dread and Dreams
(Daylight Books, May 2015) brings together photographs Zalmaï made between 2008 and 2013 against the backdrop of the 14-year
U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan which culminated in 2014 with the withdrawal of American troops. The book is therefore timely, as it contributes to the dialogue about the legacy of a war that is still shrouded in uncertainty as Afghans lose faith in their government, and in the international community that appears to have forgotten them.
Dread and Dreams presents two stylistically contrasting bodies of work. Zalmaï's epic, gritty, duotone photographs reveal the stark reality of life in Afghanistan for the millions of Afghan refugees who have returned to their country since 2002, only to find they cannot go back to their homes. They are instead forced to live in squalid conditions in makeshift refugee camps and urban slums where most live on the brink of survival, and many take refuge in drugs. Addiction is ravaging the population -- both adults and young people.
In counterpoint to this poignant series, Zalmaï presents intimate and optimistic sun-tinged color photographs that reflect the hopes and dreams of the Afghan people. Here, Zalmaï takes us away from the monumental humanitarian crisis wrought by war to reveal signs of a positive life force permeating his country.
Dread and Dreams is a deeply personal and humanistic body of work by an Afghan refugee who is informed by the tragedy of his homeland, and on a mission to show the world the story behind the headlines. In his essay in the book, Zalmaï writes: "My work is not about war, but war is in my work. And this is the core of my photography: ordinary moments turn out to be extraordinary. As extraordinary as any battle. My hope is to pay attention, to expose meaning in moments that otherwise pass unnoticed, to put a color on the dream of a simple life, in peacetime. We have to look at both the destructive force and the life force. They always clash, but the life force wins eventually."
Both series in Dread and Dreams capture the indomitable resilience of a people who are determined to rebuild their country. It is noteworthy that in the book there are only a handful of photographs of coalition soldiers, including some mysterious, hard to decipher, night photography shots. These images reveal the growing disconnect between the military and the country's civilian population.
Empathetic, indignant and still hopeful, Zalmaï's photographs draw attention to Afghanistan's ongoing struggle, that has largely left the headlines, by focusing on the Afghan people and their lived experience of war, insecurity, chronic governmental mismanagement, corruption on a huge scale, and international negligence.
Zalmaï discovered his passion for photography at a very young age in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was born. After the Soviet invasion in 1980, he found refuge in Lausanne, Switzerland, soon becoming a Swiss citizen. There, Zalmaï pursued combined studies at the School of Photography of Lausanne and the Professional Photography Training Center of Yverdon. Upon completing his education, he began to work as a freelance photographer. Assignments took Zalmaï around the world, eventually leading him back to Afghanistan. There, he began documenting the ongoing war and plight of the Afghan people, a continuing project from which the images in this book are drawn.
His work has been extensively exhibited at museums, galleries, universities and cultural centers around the world. His photographs have been awarded numerous international prizes, including the Visa D'Or from the Visa Pour L'Image Photojournalism Festival and a Getty Images grant. Zalmai's work has been published by The New York Times Magazine, TIME, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Newsweek, La Repubblica, among many other international media outlets. His work is regularly commissioned by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)