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Afghanistan: Chronotopia, Simon Norfolk
Sep 5 - Oct 13, 2002
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Kingdoms rising, kingdoms falling,
Bowing nations, plumèd wars
Weigh them in an hour of dreaming
Cooking chestnuts on the bars.
-W. B. Yeats

European art has long had a fondness for ruin and desolation that has no parallel in other cultures. Since the Renaissance, artists such as Claude Lorraine and Caspar David Friedrich have painted destroyed classical palaces and gothic churches, bathed in a fading golden twilight. These motifs symbolized that the greatest creations of civilisation – the Empires of Rome and Greece or the Catholic Church - even these have no permanence. Eventually, they too would crumble; vanquished by savages and vanishing into the undergrowth. The only thing that could last, that was truly reliable, was God. And man’s only rational response in the face of God’s power, was awe.

The landscapes of Afghanistan are also ‘awesome’ (in the original sense of this word) but the feelings of dread and insignificance are not related to the power of God but to the power of modern weaponry.

Afghanistan is unlike Sarajevo or Kigali or any other war-ravaged landscape I have ever photographed. In Kabul in particular, the devastation has a bizarre layering; the different destructive eras lying on top of each other. I was reminded of the story of Schliemann’s discovery of the remains of the classical city of Troy in the 1870s; digging down, he found nine cities layered upon each other, each one in its turn rebuilt and destroyed. Walking a Kabul street can be like walking through a Museum of the Archaeology of War – different moments of destruction lie like sediment on top of each other. There are places near Bagram Air Base or on The Shomali Plain where the front line has passed back and forth eight or nine times – each leaving a deadly flotsam of destroyed homes and fields seeded with landmines. The landscapes of Afghanistan are the scenes that I knew first from the ‘Illustrated Children’s Bible’ given to me by my parents when I was a child. When David battled Goliath, these mountains and deserts were behind them. When Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, these fauna and flora were over his shoulders. More accurately, these landscapes are how my childish imagination pictured the Apocalypse or Armageddon; utter destruction on a massive, Babylonian scale bathed in the crystal light of a desert sunrise.

Simon Norfolk

For more information: PRESS RELEASE

Simon Norfolk was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1963 and educated at Oxford and Bristol Universities in England with a degree in Philosophy and Sociology. After attending a Documentary Photography course in Newport, South Wales, he worked for far-left publications specializing in work on anti-racist activities and fascist groups, in particular the British National Party.

In 1994, Norfolk stopped photojournalism in favor of landscape photography. His book For Most Of It I Have No Words about the landscapes of places where there has been genocide was published in 1998 to widespread praise from Louise Arbour, Chief Prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The exhibit, sponsored by Impressions Gallery in York, traveled around the United Kingdom, including the Imperial War Museum. In Europe, the exhibit went to the influential Nederlands Foto Institut. The work is now a British Council Touring Exhibition travelling to the Holocaust Museum in Houston for FotoFest 2002 and Photosynkyria (Thessaloniki). His work Long time, No see about Native Americans was shown at Camerawork, San Francisco in 2001. In addition to Houston, the Afghanistan: Chronotopia exhibit has been shown at pARTs Gallery in Minneapolis, The Griffin Center for Photography in Boston and Galerie Martin Kudlek (Cologne). Selected images of the Afghanistan work will be part of a series of programs called ‘time|bomb’ that will take place September 2002 in England at Open Eye Gallery (Liverpool); Side Gallery (Newcastle); Hereford Photography Festival; Trace Gallery (Weymouth); Photofusion Gallery (London); and The British Council (London).

In 2002, Norfolk’s Afghanistan: Chronotopia work won the European Publishing Award. In 2002, he received a Silver Award from the Association of Photographers. In 2001, he won a prestigious World Press Award for his pictures of the re-painting of Jodrell Bank Radio Telescope.

Norfolk’s work is held by private collectors and in the collections of The Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the British Council; the Houston Museum of Fine Arts; and the Weismann Art Museum in Minneapolis.

His editorial work has appeared many times in The Observer, The Sunday Times Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, The South China Morning Post and La Republicca’s Magazine.