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Lorenzo Tugnoli’s photoessay is divided into two parts. He opens with a stunning series of black and white images of village of Lagubu, which sits on the Afghanistan side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. That section of the two-part photo-essay opens up windows into daily life in this border region, views that illuminate the ways in which social structure is a central, but often hidden, dimension of the conflict. For example, we see families working in the fields to make a living, often by planting seeds of poppy and marijuana. Those crops are the base of the regional drug trade and an economic driver of what is now the longest war in U.S. history.
These everyday dynamics of village life are inextricably connected to the wider war between the US and its few remaining NATO allies, and Afghan forces that Tugnoli documents in the second part of his essay, the color images. Here Tugnoli has an eye for history, creating photographs such as an Afghan soldier stepping primly on top of an abandoned Soviet tank to bypass the mud. Yet the figurative muck, the epistemic murk at the core of the war on terror is unavoidable as the war resists every effort to bring it to an end.
Tugnoli’s photographs raise questions about the limits of empire and the importance of geography in guerrilla warfare, which would seem to be strong arguments for continuity rather than change in patterns of conflict. Yet, clearly, the misadventures of the Soviets and the Americans are quite different. From the corporate provisioning, to the technological advances of the early twenty-first century, like the iris-scan and drone surveillance used by U.S. forces (that feature in Tugnoli’s photos), the war in Afghanistan continues to transform.
Tugnoli also pays special attention to children, implicitly asking, what future will the current conflict leave subsequent generations? What will happen once the Americans, like the Soviets before them, withdraw? The photograph of a bullet-ridden Coca-Cola distribution truck seems to suggest that it will not be the haven for US interests that U.S. leaders in Washington had dreamed that it might become in late 2001. To what extent will the grinding insurgency and counterinsurgency, like the one forty years earlier, signal a reorientation in international affairs?
— Alexander L. Fattal
Department of Communication
University of California, San Diego
Copyright information: Photos are copyright ©Lorenzo Tugnoli