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Book Review: Life in War


Book Review Life in War By Majid Saeedi Reviewed by Tom Leininger Life in War explains this book by Majid Saeedi simply. The pictures elegantly describe life in contemporary Afghanistan and do not document the American war but how life is for Afghans. Americans soldiers are rarely shown. What is shown is how long term war has shaped life in a country that at times has seemingly yet to enter the 21st century.

Life in War. By Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.
 
Life in War
Reviewed by Tom Leininger

Life in War
By Majid Saeedi
FotoEvidence, 2014. 120 pp., 85 duotone illustrations, 8x12½".

Life in War explains this book by Majid Saeedi simply. The pictures elegantly describe life in contemporary Afghanistan and do not document the American war but how life is for Afghans. Americans soldiers are rarely shown. What is shown is how long term war has shaped life in a country that at times has seemingly yet to enter the 21st century.

Saeedi brings a poetic sensibility to the conflict in a country whose harsh terrain and ways of life are so different from modern America. While his black and white images are in the tradition of reportage photography, they go beyond the informational press image.

Relics of war are present. Remains of tanks, buildings and bodies illustrate that recent Afghani history has been violent. Yet Saeedi finds quiet moments where young boys play in these remains of structures. He directly looks into the haunted eyes of children who have experienced too much; many pictures show children who have lost limbs. The war has affected the lives of many.

Life in WarBy Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Afghanistan is a country rooted in very traditional ways of life, which can make it difficult to understand. Take, for example, the role corporal punishment plays in society. Saeedi uses a spread of two photographs to illustrate this point. On the left page we see a man held at gunpoint getting his bare feet struck. The other page shows a young boy tied to a pole having his hands whipped. Fear and pain are clear on the boy’s face, which is in sharp clear focus. A crowd of his peers surrounds him and the looks on their faces tell a variety of stories. Captions at the end of the book explain that local residents punish members of the Taliban for not following the rules in a town recently re-taken from the Taliban. In the other picture, a religious teacher is punishing one of his students. It goes on to add that this punishment is common in the country. Saeedi is able to document these actions in a way that leaves enough room for the viewer to come to their own conclusions.

Life in WarBy Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Women are present in the book, but they are most often covered with burqas or scarves. One image shows two fully covered women with a Barbie doll in front of them; the only face we see is the one on the doll. In one of the few places where joy is readily apparent, a group of younger women and girls smile at a concert, a first for women in the country. They act like young people do at concerts all over the world.

Life in WarBy Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Saeedi also subtly takes on the issues surrounding women and marriage in the country. Many times captions state the age difference between older men and younger wives. In one stark image a man and a woman (wearing a burqa), ride donkeys in what appears to be a vast emptiness. The man is holding a stick and pointing it forward as the woman rides slightly ahead of him. It is not clear if he is angry with her for being in front, or at the donkey for not keeping up. The caption fills in the details: they are headed out of the village to a doctor, he is an old man. Saeedi again uses the power of pairing photographs to his advantage by placing an image of a couple a portrait of a self-immolation survivor. In the photograph of the couple, the woman looks at her older husband, who is a bit menacing and out of focus. The following photograph shows a woman exposing her scars in a way that is direct but not shameful. Her head is turned and she appears to look at the woman across the page. Saeedi’s point is clear here. Women in Afghanistan experience life very differently from men.

Life in WarBy Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Saeedi was able to record these images because he moved to Afghanistan. Living as a local brought these daily life trials and tribulations forward, just as being Iranian helped him to gain access that Western photographers could not have. Removed from other Western media, these pictures get at the complexities of the country and life in war. Many books have been made about Afghanistan, but this one covers new territory. How Saeedi records daily life is worth exploring.

Life in WarBy Majid Saeedi. FotoEvidence, 2014.

Life in War shows the range of the emotions conflicts bring to the front. Hope, doubt, fear, pain are present. The book opens with a vast empty landscape with a lone figure on the front end papers. At the end of the book, after a hopeful photograph of a child on a swing, the end paper has a number of different portraits showing a wide variety of expressions. This gives the reader a fuller view of the Afghan culture. It is not always easy to understand, especially from the Western perspective.—TOM LEININGER


TOM LEININGER is a photographer and educator based in North Texas. More of his work can be found on his website.

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