The fall/winter 2013 issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR) earned special attention from literary giant The New Yorker recently. On the Oct. 10, 2013 Photo Booth blog post at the magazine’s website, editor Elissa Curtis featured documentary photographer Andrea Bruce’s photo essay, “Afghan Americans”: A study in duality. This work was an outgrowth of Bruce’s war photography in the Middle East. Immediately after 9/11, assignments took her to Iraq and Afghanistan where she covered the conflict’s devastation and brutality for the next decade.
“The first few years of the war in Iraq were an almost-routine coverage of death,” she wrote in an essay that accompanies her images. “I woke up nearly every morning to the sound of a suicide bombing. Around Baghdad and while embedded with the U.S. military, the scenes of violence were heartbreaking and heavy.”
These assignments filled her with a profound sadness, but when she returned to the U.S., she realized her compassion for the victims of war was not shared. She could tell that Americans, her audience, felt removed from the war.
That motivated her to find a way to bring home more personal work. “I needed to show that Iraqis weren’t all that different from our readers,” she wrote. “I needed to show that they, too, love their children. They care about education. They have to deal with traffic and health care in ways that are surprisingly similar to Americans.”
That same motivation is revealed in the essay the The New Yorker Photo Booth blog chose to highlight. As Bruce wrote, “Intimacy was my tool. I spent the night with families, tried to live the life they live, in order to represent the intricacies of their situation with the sensitive eye of the community journalist I was in the States.”
Seven portraits and seven scenes make up her selection of images. Each portrait is accompanied by a quote from the subject, speaking to this duality, being both American and Afghan.
Said activist and women’s rights educator Mina Sherzoy, “I was born here. My parents, great-grandparents. My roots are here, in Afghanistan. …As an American, when I go to America, I try to get people to think of Afghans in a good way. And as an Afghan, when I go to Afghanistan, I want the Afghans to think of the Americans in a good way. I always tried to make the connections. I want to be a bridge.”
“Andrea Bruce was one of the 68 world-class contributors to AQR’s 30th Anniversary ‘Liberty & Justice (for All): A Global Photo Mosaic’ essay. In the process of doing that 30th anniversary project we became aware of the Afghan Americans identity photo essay that she was working on.
“My first reaction to her approach to this subject was it was not only unique and stunning artistically but also important. Once we mutually agreed that AQR would do the feature, Andrea worked with me on creating the narrative of the essay—the final form that this took had a collaborative element to it. And an interesting point is that over a period when we worked on this she was in the U.S., Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Syria.”
Bruce splits her time between Washington D.C. and her Middle East assignments. Read more about her work at her own website.
AQR is a prestigious publication that has thrived for three decades on the national literary scene and been the source of many powerful, new literary voices. Read more about this publication here.