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A Closer Look -- Terrain of Loss

Terrain of Loss by Andrea Camuto published by
EL Leon Literary Arts
Refugee camps and other locations of war's diaspora are often over flowing with the most vulnerable in society; the poor, children and their families who have moved away from the violence to protect their lives and those of their loved ones. The long history of conflict in Afghanistan has left many of these very people living on the fringes. Photographer Andrea Camuto had the opportunity to meet and document the lives of some of these Afghans, a group of people who occupied a bombed-out former Russian embassy on the outskirts of Kabul.

Camuto's book Terrain of Loss: Afghan Exiles in Their Own Land is a somber yet artful depiction of the conditions that these refugees tolerate within the boundaries of their own nation. The cover image, a double exposure, shows a small boy solid, physical, present, while what can be assumed are his mother and sister float off to his right like two apparitions-an image reminiscent of Victorian-era spirit photography where Camuto is the medium between these ghost-like beings, communicating a message to the outside world. This image also speaks softly about lower status of women in Afghani society, particularly with the looming possible return of the Taliban to power.

from Terrain of Loss by Andrea Camuto
from Terrain of Loss by Andrea Camuto

Mixed with the images of uncomfortable and sometimes dismal scenes that accompany dislocation, Camuto shows us the quality of the human condition that aspires us all to struggle, to hope. There is the presence of life. Children running among the tarp-covered brick homes playing like children in any schoolyard. A faraway and likely much dreamed of landscape of Africa is tacked to the wall with heavy tape on all four corners. A beautiful bride with a tiara on her head and bouquet in her lap sits beside her groom surrounded by the onlookers of the wedding party. The following plate shows a man navigating tattered staircase wedding cake in hand. They all continue to live their daily lives with the hope of a better life to come. 

from Terrain of Loss by Andrea Camuto
from Terrain of Loss by Andrea Camuto

Camuto's images are enticing, often using movement and selective focus to evoke an emotional response and prompt a connection between the viewer and the place and its inhabitants. The rich, dark black plays a role in this feeling. The book is saturated in ink, noted by the heavy smell and the richness of each image and matte, dark-colored opposing page. Camuto notes in her essay that she was fearful for her safety on his last visit to Afghanistan and worries about what will happen with the US troops vacate the country. She presents us with the lives of those forced from their homes by conflict, situated on the edge of an even more uncertain future. -- Melanie McWhorter