Photographs of Kabul are alluring and arresting

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Photographs of Kabul are alluring and arresting

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“Qamar’s Story,” a photographic series by Jean Chung, puts the viewers in a paradoxical state.
On one hand, her work documents the appalling conditions of women in the capital of war-ravaged Afghanistan. Yet there is also something deeply sensual and secretive about Chung’s images.
The series focuses on an Afghan woman called Qamar who died during childbirth in 2006. The photos cover the lead up to her death and the days that followed.
The collection draws on Chung’s works from Afghanistan, including “Qamar’s Story,” which won the 2007 CARE International Humanitarianism Photographic Award.
The photos are rich in Afghan culture and portray the harsh environment that women there have to endure. In addition, her work reaches further, serving as a haunting reminder of women’s oppression in the rest of the world.
And yet the images, while wholly Afghan, resonate with women throughout the world by conjuring up scenes that are universal.
The award-winning photograph depicts mourners sitting round Qamar’s corpse. The dead woman is covered in a white veil shadowed by dark silhouettes.
The series about Qamar is part of Chung’s current exhibition, “A Photographer in Kabul.”
The collection illustrates documentary photographs as an aesthetic subject while questioning the horrors of every day oppression.
Included are shots of a young Afghan soldier guarding wrecked tanks with an AK-47 and children watching the destruction of an opium field.
Other pictures create a less dark mood.
There are shots of an advertisement for a gym featuring a buff bodybuilder as a model, a taxi driver passing by a giant billboard of a Bollywood actress and pictures of an amusement park.
The images resonate because each subject has been treated with sensitivity and there are familiar references to urban pop culture.
But most of all, Chung’s empathy with her subjects reaches a peak in her depictions of desperation among Afghan women and in how military culture has penetrated every aspect of this war-torn society.

“A Photographer in Kabul” runs at Presseum, Dong-A Media Center, Gwanghamun, central Seoul, through May 30.
For more information call (02) 2020-1850.


by By Park Soo-mee Staff Reporter [myfeast@joongang.co.kr]

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