Nick Danziger is a photographer, film maker and author. His photographs have appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide, toured museums and galleries internationally, and are held in numerous museum collections. His publications include Danziger’s Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers, Danziger’s Adventures: From Miami to Kabul, and Danziger’s Britain: A Journey to the Edge. In 2007 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of The Royal Photographic Society. His latest book project, entitled Another Life, is being written in conjunction with Rory Maclean and will be published by Unbound.
1. What was the original lure of Afghanistan to you, and what do you miss most about it when you are not there?
My first trip to Afghanistan was as a result of a Winston Churchill Traveling Fellowship in 1984. Afghanistan was then under Soviet occupation and happened to be on my route from Europe to China. I entered the country clandestinely from Iran and walked al the way across it to Pakistan, more often than not staying or traveling with the Mujahedeen. Most of all I miss my Afghan friends when I am not there, although many have now left and live in exile. I also miss the camaraderie, the hospitality and generosity of many strangers I have encountered, and the breathtaking scenery in certain parts of Afghanistan.
2. Can you recap briefly your experience of adopting the three Afghan children, and comment on it all looking back?
It a very, very long story which certainly hasn’t ended. I knew the two sisters Khadija and Farishta some 8 years before I adopted them, and Satar five years before doing so. The Taliban had just taken power in Kabul and I could not see any future for two orphan girls living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Looking back, even then there was no choice, it remains an untold story as to what happened to many orphans and widows subsequent to the Mujahideen rule in Afghanistan.
3. It’s been said that Afghanistan is a graveyard for foreign armies. As someone who has spent such a great deal of time documenting the country in the last thirty years, are you filled with sadness, or is there hope?
It’s impossible not to be filled with sadness, having lived through so many different wars in Afghanistan over the past three decades – friends and colleagues have been killed, not to say murdered, and the population has suffered so much. One of the phrases that I have often heard said over the past thirty years has been, ‘It can’t get any worse.’ But it often seems to. On the positive side, access to education has expanded, as well as to health services, roads have been built, electricity has been brought to villages where there had been none, tertiary education has also expanded. This gives hope!
4. If you could choose one photograph you have taken on your travels, which would it be and why?
That’s very difficult to answer. As we are talking about Afghanistan, during a project about the effects of war on women for the International Committee of the Red Cross, I took a photograph of Mah Bibi in Ghor province in Central Afghanistan. Mah Bibi was a ten- or eleven-year-old orphan who was mother to her seven- and five-year-old brothers. I have since traced the other ten women across the world that we featured; the only one I haven’t found is Mah Bibi. I have tried on several occasions to locate her, but the closest I have come was to hear news that she died, possibly aged fifteen, during childbirth, which was also the case with her mother.
5. As a photographer who has spent time in North Korea, what are your reflections on that country and its current situation?
First of all it’s fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. I have never been sure of what is true or false; there’s so much smoke and mirrors… It’s been a privilege to have the access I have had, but even this leaves one wanting to do so much more; to portray the lives of ordinary people living under extraordinary circumstances. Like Afghanistan, it’s impossible to predict accurately what’s likely to happen. Again like Afghanistan, I hope that the long-suffering people will find peace and liberty, allowing them to prosper and enjoy the benefits of freedom from fear, to have choices and basic human rights.