Festival Photo La Gacilly – Visions of the East

Until 30 September 2022

Over the years, the annual international photographic festival at La Gacilly in southern Brittany has acquired a reputation for journalistic fearlessness. From its onset, it has been unafraid to record uncompromising images of the effects of mankind’s inhumanity to its planet, alongside visually powerful political statements.

This year’s unblinking focus turns towards the east, where the new realities of life leave one feeling extremely unsettled and fearful. Afghanistan and Iran feature prominently in images which render viewers bereft of words.

In the West, we grumble about ‘a heatwave’ lasting a couple of weeks and the lack of rain for our manicured lawns. We have absolutely no idea.

In remote corners of Iran, drought and hunger have forced people out of a once-green and fertile rural paradise and into hastily constructed concrete apartment blocks rising up on the outskirts of ‘the grotesque metropolis of Tehran’. Wooden boats lie stranded on dried-out salty shores; children play on salt mountains; village dwellers are forced out of their homes, becoming nomadic exiles, who must look to the skies and parched rocky outcrops for shelter and shade.

This is the reality of the ‘climate change’ of which we speak blithely, the truth behind all the political ‘blah-blah-blah’.

Women have rarely had it so bad since Kabul fell and the Taliban resumed control in Afghanistan. Their plight is worse than ever, not least because there have been years when things were changing, education for girls was spreading across the country, women were allowed to drive, to smoke, to wear make-up, to show their hair and their faces. No more.

Under successive oppressive regimes, many female journalists, photographers and war correspondents have carved out a special and privileged place. They are looked upon with bemusement, they are considered alien creatures, the ‘third sex’. In turn, they have shown themselves adept at, literally, going behind the veil, shining light onto the minutiae of life for ordinary people – especially women – who, day in and day out, undergo traumatic existences, out of public view.

Veronique de Viguerie lived in Kabul for a number of years and has covered events in
Afghanistan since the start of 2000. Her subjects are approached both as victims of two decades of bloody wars but also as human beings battling to preserve family life. She shines light through the darkness via the laughter of children, the resilience of the outcast Hazara community of Bamiyan and in the tenderness of an elderly peasant couple.

Fatimah Hossaini left her native country when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. She fled to France, but not before capturing the courage and multi-faceted beauty of her contemporaries who stayed behind, defiant young women retaining their dignity in the face of intolerable prejudice and oppression. She photographs them in their ethnic costumes – Pachtouns, Tadjiks, Hazaras, Qizilbashs, Ouzbeks.

Two Afghan men, Shah Marai and Wakil Khosar champion the cause of women with photographs that capture the desperation of the fall of Kabul and its fallout, as well as the anonymous, faceless beauty of defiant women condemned to live beneath the burqua.

There are more, many more, some looking back on the normality of family, educational and cultural life that once existed, others showing present day actions such as the obliteration of female faces on advertising billboards, as well the alternative normality of a young girl, standing calmly beside the loaded weapon of her warrior father.

No more words. The images speak for themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s