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

by Emmanuel Guibert (Graphic novelist), Didier Lefèvre (Photographer), Frédéric Lemercier (Author), Alexis Siegel (Introduction)

Series: Le Photographe (intégrale)

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4582040,707 (4.27)25
In 1986, Afghanistan was torn apart by a war with the Soviet Union. This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter's arduous and dangerous journey through Afghanistan, accompanying the Doctors Without Borders.

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English (17)  Danish (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This graphic memoir tells the story of Lefevre's 1986 trip into Afghanistan (and back out of) with Doctors Without Borders. He was the mission's photgrapher. This book was begun thriteen years after the trip, at Guibert's suggestion. Lefevre's journal of the trip was lost in a move, so he had his photographs and memories to work with; it is unclear if anyone else on his mission proofread.

I found this book especially fascinating, as when I was a tween I wanted to be a photographer/journalist for National Geographic or Smithsonian and take trips like this (though not in a war zone--hard-to-access location sure, disaster zone yes, war zone no). I have always dreamed of doing a tough through hike of some sort, not unlike the mission's trip from Pakistan to Afghanistan and then his trip back.

Despite the loss of his journal, this book is fascinating. It combines his photographs (black and white with 1 or 2 color images from others' cameras) with drawings and text to complete the story. The photos--even though black and white and often small--really bring the story to life. The landscape really is a rocky or desolate as the drawings show. The clothing, medical facilities (such as they are), and injured/sick are so much clearer. The story of doctors and nurses going into these very very remote and ignored places, providing services, and training local medics, fascinating--though what they are doing is essentially illegal, they face very few challenges and are essentially let through because the services are needed.

Lefevre was a bit over his head on this trip. Though he did return to Afghanistan several more times, on this trip he was overly cocky about his understanding of how things worked and overconfident about his physical abilities to hike back. He ended up being abandoned by his guides after demanding an unreasonable crossing, having his horse die, and nearly freezing himself until a caravan picked him up (and essentially extorted him to take him with them). He ended up gaining one day over the rest of his party, and lost 14 teeth and had other health issues after returning home to France. ( )
  Dreesie | Apr 24, 2021 |
This is definitely one of the best books I have read this year. Like Robert speaking of the Afghans he lived and worked among, for reading this book, I feel a bit less dumb than I would've been. This book is not only a travelogue, but it is a piece of history as well. The story takes place during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and it is in that country that MSF is doing their work. Didier the photographer goes into the country not knowing a whole lot to be perfectly honest, and he grows personally in the process. While doing so and documenting the work of the MSF, he gives us a glimpse of a country that is at times beautiful and ruthless. We meet a cast of characters that let us see both the good and the bad in the people and the country.

The strength of this book lies in the wonderful combination of photos and the art by Guibert and Lefevre. This is a moving story. It is a gripping story; once you pick it up, you may find it hard to put it down. The photos are just great. I do have to warn readers that some of the photos may be a bit gruesome, but that is just part of the story. This books definitely deserves to get more attention and have more people read it. Overall, the book is a great reading experience.

In terms of appeal factors, readers who read this may also enjoy books like Three Cups of Tea, which I read and reviewed here. ( )
  bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
Its the travelogue of a photographer who tagged along on a Doctors Without orders trip into Afghanistan in the mid 80s. The individual parts (drawings, pictures and writing) are mostly average, but they fit together very well and make it engaging (sometimes intense). ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders is a reportage comic written by Didier Lefevre. In July, 1986 he traveled to Afghanistan with the French Doctors Without Borders during the height of the Soviet war to photograph their mission. The artwork of Emmanuel Guibert also helps to tell the story of their 3 months in Afghanistan. The book was published in 3 sections in France between 2003 and 2006. It was translated into English by Alexis Siegel who also wrote the Introduction and was published in English in 2009.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section is the month long trek to the mission location. The second section deals with the provision of medical treatment to the Afghans and the third section is the month long walk out of the country.

The graphic novel begins with the photographer leaving France for Pakistan where he meets up with other members of the mission and helps them prepare to enter Afghanistan. The first glimpse of local flavor is here. The MSF (French name of Doctors Without Borders) packs up their supplies in boxes so that there is no room inside due to the battering that the boxes will go through during the expedition through the mountains to their post in Badakhshan. I was quite surprised to discover that the contents of a pack of pills could be crushed to a fine powder if they were to shift within the boxes. The boxes must then be covered in waterproof tarp in case they fall into a river. Negotiations over the purchase of animals for the expedition take place, where else, in a refugee camp.

The medical mission itself was pretty straightforward. Most of the harrowing stories dealt with how the group got into Afghanistan and how they got out. The book ended with an update on what each member of the mission is currently doing with their life.

The artwork is colored in the browns of the region. While some of the drawings are detailed, many are not. They were drawn first in a black outline and later colored in by Frederic Lemercier. The photographs are all in black and white. A few of them are out of focus and I cannot understand why they were used in the book. Lefevre had good cameras with him. I wonder if the brown terrain made everything appear dark. However, in some places he said he was in beautiful terrain and the photos were still dark. His photos of the wounded and the surgeries were very clear. The comic print style of putting a page together is used regardless of whether there are photographs on the page, drawings or a combination of the two.

The story told here is an important one. It not only is an MSF story and an Afghanistan story, but a story of how the American war on terror began. The Introduction discusses the people involved in Afghanistan at the time of this mission who were also involved in the September 11 attacks in the U. S. The role of the CIA in Afghanistan is also discussed.

I highly recommend this book. ( )
  Violette62 | Oct 13, 2018 |
A stunning photo-infused graphic novel about Doctors without Borders, Afghanistan and the photographer's journey when he accompanies the doctors on a mission in 1986. Frequently the photographs are actually Didier's contact sheets, which, while sometimes hard to examine without a loupe, add drama and action to his story. The dedication of the doctors in difficult conditions and the harsh ruggedness of the Afghanistan landscape and culture are breathtaking. This mesmerizing story is essential reading especially as the U.S. continues to be entrenched militarily in Afghanistan. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
The book has the feel of a film, attesting to the skill of Guibert and Frédéric Lemercier, the graphic designer. But there is nothing romantic about Afghanistan or the Afghans, who can be at once courageous and generous as well as heartless and menacing. Lefèvre, on the way back, is abandoned by his feckless guides; his horse collapses and eventually dies; and the photographer nearly succumbs in the snowy mountain passes. “I take out one of my cameras. I choose a 20-millimeter lens, a very wide angle, and shoot from the ground,” he says — “to let people know where I died.” The next page shows his exhausted pack horse amid snowy boulders, followed by a bleak spread of the gloomy mountain pass. Lefèvre is saved by a band of brigands, who shake him down for much of his money but get him out. The physical toll of his trip left him suffering from chronic boils. He lost 14 teeth. But before he died he returned to Afghanistan seven more times in an attempt to tell the stories of those he first met in 1986, whom he could not abandon or forget.

The disparity between what we are told or what we believe about war and war itself is so vast that those who come back, like Lefèvre, are often rendered speechless. What do you say to those who advocate war as an instrument to liberate the women of Afghanistan or bring democracy to Iraq? How do you tell them what war is like? How do you explain that the very proposition of war as an instrument of virtue is absurd? How do you cope with memories of children bleeding to death with bits of iron fragments peppered throughout their small bodies? How do you speak of war without tears?

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Guibert, EmmanuelGraphic novelistprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lefèvre, DidierPhotographermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Lemercier, FrédéricAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Siegel, AlexisIntroductionmain authorall editionsconfirmed

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In 1986, Afghanistan was torn apart by a war with the Soviet Union. This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter's arduous and dangerous journey through Afghanistan, accompanying the Doctors Without Borders.

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