MUSING: The Bookseller Of Kabul

Photo on 2010-12-12 at 11.54

I went to the bookshop owned by ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ today.

The book received much critical acclaim for it’s depiction of the bookseller Shah Muhammad Rais (whose name was changed to Sultan Khan) and his family in Afghanistan.  The journalist and author of the book lived with Rais and his family which (quote)  ”provided her with a unique opportunity to describe life as ordinary Afghan citizens saw it”.

There is much controversy surrounding this book, not only for the offence that it caused, but also for the shear narrow mindedness of a western journalist who claimed to portray the complexities of Afghan culture through her words and limited experience of life here.

Having spent only a short time in Afghanistan I have come to realise that as a westerner, I will never be able to see or experience life, let alone describe it as an ordinary Afghan citizen would.  Our lives and experiences are so far removed that I would never try to claim that I see what they see, I experience what they experience, or that I understand their lives.  I am so aware as a photographer working in this region of the world, of the privilege it is to be here, and to learn from these people who graciously give me permission to photographically record my experience of being here.  The images I have taken here do show some aspects of Afghan life, but I will never assume that I will ever be able to see or document the whole picture.  I will always be on the outside looking in.  My dream is that one day there would be global exhibitions of photographs made by Afghans of their culture and homeland.  Only they have the true insight to their world.

Photo on 2010-12-12 at 11.53

In response, Rais wrote a book called ‘Once upon a time there was a bookseller in Kabul’.  I bought it in the shop today, and he offered to sign it for me.  Nice man.

The shop is full of many wonderful books, piled high to the ceiling, the kind of place you can spend hours browsing and still miss so much.  I came across a beautiful book by photographer Seamus Murphy, who, the bookseller informed me had been into the shop two weeks previously.  Watch out for my next post for more details on his work.