Daily Picture Show

Photos From Afghanistan: Natural Beauty, Not War

"We have so much baggage about the Afghan people," photographer Benjamin Rasmussen bemoans, "that it is hard for us to think about them without immediately moving to the negative. Our minds go directly to the Taliban, American soldiers dying and the oppression of women."

Rasmussen's goal, in short, is to change that view. To do so, he spent some time in the remote areas of northeastern Afghanistan this year. Hidden in the hills of the Wakhan Corridor, in the easternmost province of Badakhshan, are not only rugged landscapes dotted with mud brick homes — but also people who live largely off the radar. In his travels, Rasmussen photographed Wakhi people as well as the Kyrgyz living high in the Pamir Mountains. He sent his narrative, below, in an e-mail.

  • A Kyrgyz horseman prepares to check on his herd of sheep and goats outside the village of Ghaz Khan. The Pamir Kyrgyz live at high elevations on the Pamir Mountains and leave only during the spring and summer months.
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    A Kyrgyz horseman prepares to check on his herd of sheep and goats outside the village of Ghaz Khan. The Pamir Kyrgyz live at high elevations on the Pamir Mountains and leave only during the spring and summer months.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A Wakhi shepherd grabs a baby goat from its mother in a sheep and goat pen in the Pamir Mountains. The babies and mothers are kept separate to increase the amount of milk that the shepherds can get from the animals, as milk is the shepherds' main source of nutrition.
    Hide caption
    A Wakhi shepherd grabs a baby goat from its mother in a sheep and goat pen in the Pamir Mountains. The babies and mothers are kept separate to increase the amount of milk that the shepherds can get from the animals, as milk is the shepherds' main source of nutrition.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A Wakhi woman stands near her family in the village of Ghaz Khan.
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    A Wakhi woman stands near her family in the village of Ghaz Khan.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • Wakhi men hike to the base of Big Pamir Mountain as they return to their village in the Wakhan Corridor, in the province of Badakshan in Afghanistan's northeast corner.
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    Wakhi men hike to the base of Big Pamir Mountain as they return to their village in the Wakhan Corridor, in the province of Badakshan in Afghanistan's northeast corner.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A Kyrgyz trader feeds his yaks in the village of Ghaz Khan in the Wakhan Corridor. He traveled down from the Pamir Mountains with men from his tribe to trade livestock for supplies when the spring snow melting made the trip possible.
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    A Kyrgyz trader feeds his yaks in the village of Ghaz Khan in the Wakhan Corridor. He traveled down from the Pamir Mountains with men from his tribe to trade livestock for supplies when the spring snow melting made the trip possible.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • Boys take a break from playing in the village of Ghaz Khan.  Schooling is accessible in most villages, making this new generation the first to benefit from widespread education.
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    Boys take a break from playing in the village of Ghaz Khan. Schooling is accessible in most villages, making this new generation the first to benefit from widespread education.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • Horses graze in the Wakhan Corridor as grass begins to grow after the long winter. For much of the year, the snow is so deep that travel between villages is impossible.
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    Horses graze in the Wakhan Corridor as grass begins to grow after the long winter. For much of the year, the snow is so deep that travel between villages is impossible.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A Wakhi shepherd in the Wakhan Corridor holds a baby yak away from its mother so that she can be milked. The shepherds live in the mountains during the spring and summer with their herds, living off of milk and bread.
    Hide caption
    A Wakhi shepherd in the Wakhan Corridor holds a baby yak away from its mother so that she can be milked. The shepherds live in the mountains during the spring and summer with their herds, living off of milk and bread.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A Wahki shepherd boils goats milk inside of the yurt that he shares with three other men.
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    A Wahki shepherd boils goats milk inside of the yurt that he shares with three other men.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A young Wahki shepherd stands next to a sheep and goat pen after herding the flock in for the night.
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    A young Wahki shepherd stands next to a sheep and goat pen after herding the flock in for the night.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • Wakhi shepherds and horsemen warm themselves by a fire in their yurt in the Wakhan Corridor.
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    Wakhi shepherds and horsemen warm themselves by a fire in their yurt in the Wakhan Corridor.
    Benjamin Rasmussen
  • A newborn lamb stands outside of a yurt.
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    A newborn lamb stands outside of a yurt.
    Benjamin Rasmussen

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By Benjamin Rasmussen

Although I am American by nationality, I have lived abroad most of my life, only returning as an adult. I grew up on a small island off the southern coast of the Philippines with a minority Muslim people group with whom my parents worked. I spent my childhood running around the jungle, chopping things with machetes and exploring the island's beaches and rivers.

When I left the Philippines after high school, I moved to the United States and went to a Christian college in northwestern Arkansas to study journalism. ... After college, I moved for a year to my father's hometown in the Faroe Islands, a protectorate of Denmark in the middle of the North Atlantic populated by the descendants of Vikings and Irish monks. It is a tiny collection of islands with only 45,000 inhabitants, with its own language and cultural history.

These three places are all drastically different from each other, but each one is full of people I love and respect. And when I discovered a photograph's power to capture the unique and beautiful aspects of these groups as well as their commonalities, I immediately fell for the medium. It allows me to explore what those different identities mean to me, and then to share those discoveries in a way that can communicate beauty and humanity.

When my wife and I decided to move back to the United States last year, I felt that I inherited the ongoing war in Afghanistan, along with the scars of Sept. 11. And when I thought about investing myself in America as a visual storyteller, I saw that this conversation about the conflict in Afghanistan was one of the most serious debates being held, and that I wanted to have a voice in it.

We have so much baggage about the Afghan people that it is hard for us to think about them without immediately moving to the negative. Our minds go directly to the Taliban, American soldiers dying and the oppression of women. While these are all pieces of the situation, it's hard to have an honest conversation about Afghanistan without first acknowledging Afghans as being valuable, beautiful and human.

With these images — which are the beginning of a much larger project — I want to show Afghans not as victims of war or as people we are fighting against, but just as people of value. I wanted to show these people and their lives beautifully to help break down the ugly stereotypes we have of Afghans. My goal for the project is to do my part to expand our cultural conversation about Afghanistan beyond whether or not to pull troops out, and instead give viewers a deeper perspective of the country and its people.

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