October 25, 2008

Afghanistan or The Perils of Freedom Photographs by Stephen Dupont

Contemporary Life in Afghanistan Placed in Stark Focus in Photography Exhibition at The New York Public Library

A man cycling past the ruins of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, September 2005. © The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Art and Architecture Collection. Photo: Stephen Dupont, "Bamiyan", 2005.

U.S. Marines, 2nd Battalion, Echo Company on weapons search in Asadabad, August 2005. © The New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Art and Architecture Collection. Photo: Stephen Dupont, "Searching for Weapons," 2005.

With his discerning eye, unreserved bravado, and profound capacity for compassion, photographer Stephen Dupont plunges us deep into the heart of modern life in one of the world’s most forlorn and austere countries, Afghanistan. The barren beauty of its harsh landscape and sure tenacity of its people are juxtaposed here against the grief and terror that permeate everyday life.

Stephen Dupont is an award-winning photojournalist, documentary filmmaker, and war correspondent. He is internationally recognized for his work in some of the world’s most dangerous areas, including Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Somalia, and Zaire.

This exhibition, featuring photographs of Afghanistan from two portfolios recently acquired for the Library’s Photography Collection, is his first solo show in New York. Excerpts from two of Dupont's films, A Survivor's Tale and Stoned in Kabul, will be shown continuously in the Library’s South Court Visitor's Auditorium (first floor).

"Dupont’s sustained documentation of the conflict in Afghanistan, even when it was not headline news and in an age defined by its short attention span, lends both force and cohesion to his work,” says Stephen Pinson, Assistant Director of Art, Prints and Photographs and Curator of Photography at The New York Public Library. “His extended focus on the country has resulted in a series of images that vividly depict how life continues during perpetual war as well as single images that have helped to define and change the nature of that war.”

The exhibition features selected photographs from Dupont’s work in Afghanistan, where he has covered everything from civil war and the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s to the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom and the ongoing war on terrorism. These evocative images detail daily life: the men exercising in a dilapidated gymnasium in Kabul; the four women shrouded head to toe in their burqas awaiting medical consultations; the silhouette of a man cycling past the haunting ruins of the Buddhas of Bamiyan; and the young mujahid amputee in front of a bullet-ridden wall. Darker images punctuate the exhibition as well: a 4-month old child, her entire body burned, being carried in a U.S. Military Base Hospital; a woman and young girl crouching frightened as soldiers search their home; two young men shooting heroin in Kabul; and burning bodies of Taliban fighters.

Also included are photographs from the series Axe Me Biggie, a phonetic rendering of the Dari for “Mister, take my picture!” Dupont made these portraits during the course of one day (March 13, 2006) with a Polaroid camera in a makeshift studio in the streets of Kabul. While the primary subjects of the portraits are the sitters, the street life behind the sitters gives the photographs an added degree of stirring brio. One can almost feel the heat and hum of the crowd pushing towards the camera and its cameraman. It is through these images that the indomitable Afghan spirit Dupont so admires comes through acutely: a man with a bouquet of flowers and his knapsack staring mystified into the camera as bystanders behind him do the same; an older man in traditional dress looking scholarly and grandfatherly; the reluctant gaze of the young girl delicately holding a carton of eggs, and a gentleman in a suit jacket and button-up shirt, who looks nothing if not regal, intensely courting the camera.

Together, these photographs tell a poignant story of poverty, warfare, and broken promises, but also of perseverance, unmitigated resolve, and hope, as they refocus attention on the state of Afghanistan today.

About Stephen Dupont

Stephen Dupont was born in Sydney, Australia in 1967.

His work has been featured in The New Yorker, Newsweek, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair, among numerous other publications.

He has earned many of photography’s most prestigious prizes, including a Robert Capa Gold Medal citation from the Overseas Press Club of America; a Bayeux War Correspondent’s Prize; and first places in the World Press Photo contest, Pictures of the Year International competition, the Australian Walkley Award, and the Leica/CCP Documentary Photography Award.

In 2007, he was awarded the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanitarian Photography to continue Narcostan or The Perils of Freedom, a multimedia project documenting the effects of the rampant drug trafficking that has developed in Afghanistan since 2001.

In April of 2008, he survived a suicide bombing while traveling with an opium poppy eradication team in Kabul.

About The Photography Collection

The Photography Collection of The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs comprises approximately 400,000 photographs, including examples of almost every photographic process from the earliest daguerreotypes to contemporary digital images.

The Photography Collection was developed in 1980 when images culled from other NYPL departments and branches were brought together to form a new division. The historically stated focus of the collection has been “documentary photography,” a term originally coined in the 1930s to describe the work of photographers who attempted to document specific social conditions. The Photography Collection, which has significant holdings in this area, actually encompasses a much broader range of the medium, including images made for commercial, industrial, and scientific application as well as images for the press and other print media, the vernacular of amateur snapshot photography, and original works intended for exhibition and/or the art market.

For more information on the Photography Collection, visit www.nypl.org/news/treasures for a video about the collection.

Afghanistan, or The Perils of Freedom: Photographs by Stephen Dupont will be on view from November 7, 2008 through January 25, 2009 in the Stokes Gallery (third floor) at The New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Exhibition hours are Monday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Closed all federal holidays and Sunday, Dec. 7. Admission is free.

For more information, visit www.nypl.org

This exhibition has been made possible by the continuing generosity of Miriam and Ira D. Wallach. Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Mahnaz Ispahani and Adam Bartos, Jonathan Altman, and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III.

About The New York Public Library - The New York Public Library was created in 1895 with the consolidation of the private libraries of John Jacob Astor and James Lenox with the Samuel Jones Tilden Trust. The Library provides free and open access to its physical and electronic collections and information, as well as to its services. It comprises four research centers – the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Science, Industry and Business Library – and 87 branch libraries in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Research and circulating collections combined total more than 50 million items. In addition, each year the Library presents thousands of exhibitions and public programs, which include classes in technology, literacy, and English as a second language. The New York Public Library serves over 16 million patrons who come through its doors annually and another 25 million users internationally, who access collections and services through its website, www.nypl.org

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