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A photographer tells Afghanistan's history through one family.
KABUL — Farhuddin Ba Deli stared out the window as the Kabul taxi crawled through downtown and turned on what is known in Dari as Stonecutter Street.
His brown eyes looked out past the bustle of shop owners and fruit peddlers and pushcart operators to some place far beyond the street.
“I have bad memories of Stonecutter Street," says Farhuddin, a heavy sadness in his voice and words that trail off at the end as he remembers the war years.
Stonecutter Street was where he came of age in a country ravaged by war. It’s where he and his father and four brothers endured the darkest days of all the many years of fighting in Kabul. The father and mother were starting their family when the Soviets invaded the country in 1979. They learned to live with war through the decade that followed as the Mujahedeen fought to force the Soviets out.
Stonecutter Street just off the Shor Bazaar was home for the Ba Deli family through the civil war as the brutal and corrupt warlords, backed by the U.S. to defeat the Soviets, fought for control of the city. They survived the intense fighting in 1996 when the Taliban surged to power.
Farhuddin lost three brothers in the many years of fighting. He lost his leg as a boy when an errant rocket struck the street.
“My brothers died on this street. I came to hate this street,” he said, the sadness in his eyes turning to something else, a resiliency that is hard-edged but not void of hope.
It was on Stonecutter Street in 1994, when he met Seamus Murphy, an Irish photographer now with the photo agency VII. Murphy brought his soulful gift and dogged determination for storytelling to a 15-year body of work that captures the darkness and the light of Afghanistan. It is chronicled in his book, "Afghanistan: A Darkness Visible"(Saqi Books).
When he was on assignment that day in 1994, the world didn’t care much about Afghanistan. It was a failed and ruined state, refuse from the Cold War. Murphy was there working hard to chronicle the fighting and looked up at a second-floor apartment window where the Ba Deli family lived in a building that had been punched by mortars and pocked by machine-gun fire.
He waved to the father, Abdul Sami, who in turn motioned to him to come up for tea. Murphy took the invitation and ended up spending the night with the family and beginning a relationship in which he chronicled their lives, the deaths, the marriages and the births of the sons of a new generation over the next 15 years.
“What hooked me and brought me back to the family again and again was that they represent more than just the family themselves. They are symbolic, a metaphor for the condition of the Afghan people,” explains Murphy.