Going To War
(solemn piano music)
I spent two years traveling in India without coming home. India gets incredibly hot just before the onset of the monsoon. So I decided to try and find a new place to go to, do another adventure. I crossed over into Pakistan. And again, the heat was just unbearable so I decided to go up into the Hindu Kush, into the Morocco mountain range, just to get some relief from all the heat. When I arrived in a small town called Chitral which was actually very close to the Afghan border. I met a couple of Afghan refugees living in my hotel. And they, over dinner one night, they started telling me about this incredible war that was going on in their country, just over the next mountain range. And they said, well you know you're a photographer. You should come. We want to take you into our country, into our region of Nuristan. And we want you to show this story to the world. There were thousands of refuges flowing out of Afghanistan. So I thought, I really should go in and so...
. They gave me very old sort of Afghan shalwar kameez. Sort of what their local guard. And I had a beard and I put my camera bag into an old sort of burlap sack. And threw it over my shoulder and we proceeded to literally walk across the border, right next to some Pakistani soldiers who basically had no idea that I was a foreigner. They thought I was a local person because of the way I looked. And once I got in Afghanistan, I realized that this story was something that really needed the world to know. I went through so many villages that had been bombed. Destroyed. They were empty. And this wasn't just one or two villages. This was many. And I started to come to the realization that there was this systematic plan to drive all of these people living along the border to drive them over into Pakistan as refugees. So I photographed. I stayed there for a few weeks. And became very kind of obsessed with this situation and I wanted to go back again and again and since that first trip into Afghanistan I have been back. Maybe more than 30 times. (solemn piano music) So this chance encounter I had with these Afghans in this hotel over dinner was something which I think was a pivotal point in my life, and in my career. I saw there was an opportunity. I had an instinct that this was something important and I decided to go for it. I decided this was something an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I think in times, there are times in life when you have to take risks. I think the worst thing for me is to be timid and not to seize that moment and move forward in a positive way. You have to take that opportunity that presents itself and move forward. On two occasions while I was working Afghanistan I was reported dead. On both occasions I had gone in for a very extended time. People that I had told I was going in started getting worried and then there were rumors and reports that of a photographer being killed. And they assumed it was me. And when weeks went by again, then that almost confirmed the fact that it was me who was had been the foreigner who was killed. And they called my family. They called friends. And eventually of course I resurfaced. But not before there was sort of a panic in my family. After I had spent a few weeks on that first trip in Afghanistan I started getting really nervous that when I reentered Pakistan without my passport if I got stopped they may want to put me in jail. Confiscate my film. And detain me. I didn't know. So I decided in order to secure my film I kind of hid it inside the clothing of my costume and put other film in the camera bag and in my camera so that if there was any question, hopefully they would take the not the exposed film which I had hidden in strategic places around my body. Unfortunately I never got stopped at least not in Afghanistan. I did have film take away in Lebanon and Iraq and other places. But I mean sometimes, you had no choice. If a soldier or the police want your film sometimes you have no choice but to give it up. The most important thing is you should always be safe. No picture is worth a life. I think it's always important to take risks. But you always should work inside a margin of safety. I think the worst experience of my career was working during a festival in Mumbai where I was in the water up to my waist photographing a festival. It was a common festival. There were dozens of photographers there. But somehow they took issue with my photographing this one particular place. And they attacked me. They hit me. They pulled my camera under water. Ruining all of my equipment. I didn't lose any of my film because I had kept it in the plastic containers. But I was really nervous that they were going to drown me. I thought they were 10 people pounding on me. And I was under water at some point. So I thought, I'm gonna die here. And eventually somebody came and grabbed me and said this guy can't kill him. He's with us so. So they led me back to the beach. But it was very harrowing. I thought yeah this was. Not gonna be. This isn't going to end well for me.