War and Amnesia
Burke + Norfolk — John Burke, Simon Norfolk
Book Review by Matt Packer
Published by: Dewi Lewis
Simon Norfolk’s return to Afghanistan since his previous Afghanistan: chronotopia (2002) is a parallel enquiry of lost hope and a resuscitive dialogue. The book takes the form of an ‘artistic partnership’ with the discovered albums of John Burke (c.1843 – 1900), described as the first ever photographer to make pictures in Afghanistan. Interposing Norfolk’s scenes of contemporary military scarrings and fragile new commercialisms amid the landscape and civic life of the country, together with Burke’s equanimous and beautiful images taken during the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878- 1880), the effective congruities between the two photographers’ work ultimately sets up a critique of the amnesia of recent Western speculations in Afghanistan.
Burke’s portraits of ambassadors, soldiers, and social ranks also have their counterpart in Norfolk’s modern equivalents: staff at the British Embassy, a military Media Operations unit, and an Afghan Women’s National Basketball team. History repeats itself, Norfolk’s work seems to suggest, albeit through another name and with a little bit of brutal adjustment. Burke + Norfolk emphasises the lessons unlearned through history, but also raises questions of photography’s relatively changeless capacity of political address and respondency.