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“The Photographer,” another from the Notables List

What an interesting Notable book–“The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders” by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre, and Frederic Lemercier.

It’s written in graphic novel format, with panels of pictures and captions. What’s different here is that Didier Lefevre was a photographer, and so photographs are included as well as drawings. This book describes a trip that Lefevre took in 1986 to Afghanistan with a French Doctors Without Borders group that was to treat people caught up in the war there. As a photographer, Lefevre isn’t really part of the group. But photography became the skill that he offered to this intense work, his ability to document what happened.

There’s so much to say about this book.

Lefevre’s emotional upset at what he witnessed was intensified by his ability to DO nothing for the people, beyond documenting their situation. His keen visual sense increased that intensity, including is respect for the doctors’ work.

The landscape of Afghanistan is almost a character in itself–both the remarkable scenes of mountains and dark interiors.

The newness of the experiences leads Lefevre to take it all in, and to try to explain. The group’s encounters with local people, especially with warlords and other leaders, demonstrate how different this place, this culture, and this situation are from what he’s known. The brevity that captions enforce keep him from philosophizing much. Instead, he describes what he sees, what he learns.

He does a crazy thing at the end of the trip, taking off on his own to go back to Pakistan. He nearly dies, is taken advantage of by some people, and then kindly rescued by others.

Some of the photographs, such as those on page 258 just before his return to Paris, are just drop-dead fascinating.

One quibble I’d make is that my 50-year-old eyes required an awful lot of light to get full advantage of the small photographs. Read this book at a table with a good lamp.

Didier Lefevre died in 2007 of a heart attack. He lived to see this book in its original French edition. The book is a collaboration between Lefevre, Emmanual Guibert, who drew the pictures, and Frederic Lemercier, who was the designer.

I recommend this to people interested in Afghanistan, to those who like to read about heroes and people who take big chances, and to people who love photography. And to everyone who chooses to think about some of the big “whys” of the world, like…why is there war?

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