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A Closer Look -- Burke + Norfolk

Burke + Norfolk
Dewi Lewis’ new publication Burke + Norfolk may be the best book I have seen come out this year. When taking into account content, design, reproduction quality and sequencing, this monograph is an exceptional over-sized object.

Loosely rephotographic in nature, this book is Simon Norfolk’s revisitation of the work of little known 19th century Irish photographer John Burke. Burke was the first photographer to make images in Afghanistan while accompanying British forces during the years of 1878-1880. The result of Burke’s travels produced several photographic albums the photographer sold following the British invasion. Carrying a large wooden view camera and using a wet-collodion process, the shear task Burke undertook in the conflict-ridden country is worthy of great intrigue. But process aside, Burke’s stunning photographs are richly printed and the details from his large negatives are exquisite.

from Burke + Norfolk
from Burke + Norfolk
Paired alongside Burke’s photographs, Norfolk’s images are equally brilliant. Taken with a 4x5 view-camera, many of the photographs were shot at night or dusk, giving an ambiance that transcends traditional documentary photography. And while the photographic atmosphere is unique to conflict photography, Norfolk’s approach to retracing Burke’s steps grabbed my attention. Using history books, maps and the ‘terrain tilt’ feature in Google Earth, Norfolk loosely gauged where Burke’s camera must have been. In many ways these stylistic approaches created a book that is wrapped very much in the history of the photographic medium – climbing to high vantage points in order for the viewer to understand the full topography of a region.

from Burke + Norfolk
from Burke + Norfolk
from Burke + Norfolk
Containing three distinct sections, the city, portraits and military the book gives a well-rounded view of both the changes Afghanistan has endured, as well as the changes that have not occurred. The reality that there has been, as Norfolk refers to it, four Anglo-Afghan Wars, is a sobering actuality. And as Norfolk states, many of the British fighters currently involved in the Afghan conflict know little of their country's deeply rooted history in the region. In a time when many in this country are questioning the relevance of a continued war in Afghanistan, this book sheds a small light on both countries’ violent history and current state of existence. -- Antone Dolezal

Purchase a copy of the book here.

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