Book Review: The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

I bought the book because a caption on the back cover caught my attention. "I take out one of my cameras. I choose a 20mm lens, a very wide angle, and shoot from the ground. To let people know where I died."

Well, that and because the book was selling for only £6 on Amazon UK.

In July 1986, French photojournalist Didier Lefèvre took on an assignment to document the efforts of Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Afghanistan. The story is told with photographs comic-book style, with the illustrations of Emmanuel Guibert filling in the blanks and dialogues throughout, based off the notes taken.

What we have here is a story that's incredibly absorbing and powerful. Through the photos and narration, we're immediately transported to Afghanistan, just right beside Didier Lefèvre. The feeling is no different when you're in a different country, experiencing a different culture and way of life. We get to see what he sees, hear what he hears. We walk along the same hazardous mountain paths, always on the lookout for Russian helicopters. And we try to find meaning into the work done by Doctors Without Borders, be it bandaging a poor boy's burnt foot or cutting out the dead cornea of a soldier.

This is a difficult book to read, in the sense that you're confronted with the realities of war. Just behind the front line of war, we're with the doctors, looking at how these people cope with the war and their lives. There will be many moments to set you thinking about what these people are fighting for. Many times you'll want to leave Afghanistan, something we can just do by putting down the book, but not easily too as we're drawn to find out how the journey ends.

In the year that followed the mission, Didier suffered from chronic furunculosis and lost 14 teeth. Of the 4000 photos he took, only 6 were published by the newspaper. Thankfully, the rest are reproduced in this book or his efforts would be sorely wasted.

The Photographer is a very raw and powerful account of the journey Didier Lefèvre went through, as well as the work of Doctors Without Borders. The story is as absorbing as it is harsh at the same time. This book will transport you to a place you don't want to go.

Here are two of the many editorial reviews for the book:

"The Photographer is a work of stunning originality and power. It seamlessly blends personal storytelling, photography, and illustration to reveal the essential work of Doctors Without Borders. It is to Didier Lefevre’s immense credit that he risked his life to bring that story to light. This amazing work gives us a window into the suffering and perseverance of the Afghan people. Above all else, it is a truly inspiring piece of work." -- Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm

"There is no fighting in this book. No great warriors are exalted. The story is about those who live on the fringes of war and care for its human detritus. By the end of the book the image or picture of a weapon is distasteful. And if you can achieve this, you have gone a long way to imparting the truth about warfare." – The New York Times Book Review

The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders is available at Amazon (US | CA | UK | DE | FR | IT | ES | JP | CN) and Book Depository

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