Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan

I’m afraid this is another photo exhibition i’m going to review! I know they are not the most popular on this blog but for some reason, London seems to be all about photo shows this week.

I’m just back from Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan which has opened a few days ago at Tate‘s best kept secret: the Level 2 Gallery.


A home made of shipping containers, on the outskirts of Kabul, occupied by workers who cast blast-wall sections in concrete. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A building in the city of Herat is decked with some of the wedding-cake architecture that is becoming common in Afghanistan, inspired by refugees who spent time in the Gulf states or Pakistan. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A cellphone booster station built precariously on uninhabited wreckage in the Quwayi Markaz district of Kabul. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A watchtower guarding a street of foreign embassies in central Kabul. Copyright Simon Norfolk


Afghan Police receiving shooting training from US Marines, Camp Leatherneck, Helmand. Copyright Simon Norfolk


The former home of Jangalak Industries is now used as a massive storage yard for scrap metal. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A Shia cemetery on the flanks of Kohe Asmai. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A view of Kabul city centre from Bala Burj. Copyright Simon Norfolk


Refugees from fighting between NATO and the Taliban in Nangahar province, close to the Pakistan border. Copyright Simon Norfolk


Media Ops team including a Combat Camera Unit, Camp Bastion, Helmand. Copyright Simon Norfolk


The Old Mikrorayon part of Kabul behind Ghazi Stadium. Copyright Simon Norfolk


One of the logistics businesses clustered along Jalalabad Road, where foreign military forces and international N.G.O.’s can obtain supplies. Copyright Simon Norfolk


The security facilities at the entrance to a small N.G.O. in Kabul. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A restaurant next to the Kabul municipal bus garage. Copyright Simon Norfolk


Pro-Taliban refugees. Copyright Simon Norfolk


A security guard’s booth at the newly restored Ikhtiaruddin citadel, Herat. Copyright Simon Norfolk

Simon Norfolk went in Afghanistan for the first time in 2001, when the US began to bomb the country as the prelude to the so-called Operation Enduring Freedom. He came back with the series Afghanistan: Chronotopia: Landscapes of the Destruction of Afghanistan. A few years later, someone from the National Media Museum in Bradford showed him pictures by the nineteenth-century British photographer John Burke. Burke, who is thought to be the first man ever to have photographed Afghanistan, accompanied the British forces during the invasion that became the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80. Burke’s splendid sepia photos gave Norfolk the desire to follow the footsteps of the Victorian photographer.

In October 2010, Norfolk flew back to Afghanistan to shoot a new series that respond to Burke’s Afghan war scenes in the context of the contemporary conflict. A 17 minute video shown at Tate shows Norfolk explaining that although Burke and him are collaborating over time (130 years!), their perspective is quite different. While he did not glorify it, Burke was nevertheless embedded in the British Empire. Norfolk is a free agent whose aim is to show that, alas!, history is repeating itself. He hopes that his photos will communicate his disappointment at the situation in Afghanistan where thousands of people have already died. Norfolk sees the war as a murderous manifestation of imperialism.

The new body of work is presented at the gallery alongside Burke’s original portfolios.


A team from the mine ­detection centre, Kabul. Photograph: © Simon Norfolk


John Burke, Landholders and labourers


John Burke, Captured Guns, 1978

John Burke, Shergai Heights looking towards Ali Musjid


John Burke, Officers. Her Majesty’s 51st Regiment on Sultan Tarra


John Burke, Mahomed Tahir Khan, Aslam Khan of Ghazni

Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan remains open at the Level 2 Gallery, Tate Modern in London until July 10, 2011.