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The Best View of Heaven is from Hell by Bran Symondson is a new photo exhibition documenting the Afghan National Police (ANP). As a serving soldier in the British Army, Bran Symondson became fascinated by the Afghan National Police (ANP), their ethos and their daily existence in the war with the Taliban. When he was given the opportunity to return and document these characters as a civilian photographer in 2010, he was able to capture a unique perspective on the current conflict.
Idea Generation Gallery Press Release
The Best View of Heaven is from Hell
28th Jan – 20th Feb 2011
Private View 27th January 2011
Astonishing images of the Afghan National Police as soldier returns to Afghanistan as a civilian photographer to document their daily lives and struggle against the Taliban.
As a serving soldier in the British Army, Bran Symondson became fascinated by the Afghan National Police (ANP), their ethos and their daily existence in the war with the Taliban. When he was given the opportunity to return and document these characters as a civilian photographer in 2010, he was able to capture a unique perspective on the current conflict.
Symondson’s photographs represent a side of the conflict that has remained completely untold until now. For the first time, an exhibition of his remarkable work will be on show at The Idea Generation Gallery, in images that lay bare the remarkable contradictions in the life of an Afghan policeman.
The men of the ANP preserve as well as corrupt; they must be relied upon, but can’t be trusted; they are proud of their appearance in the midst of squalor, and are curiously feminine in a world of machismo, force and power. The role of the ANP is at the heart of every contradiction, as it is their job to keep the encroaching sides apart, yet help bring Afghanistan together as a nation.
“A unique set of provocative and intimate images that explore the complex relationships of ‘brothers in arms’” Jon Jones, Sunday Times Magazine
“There’s a similarity between a soldier and a photographer, they are both looking intensely for the moment.” Bran Symondson
Symondson had gained unique access to the men serving with the ANP and formed bonds of trust in this enormously difficult environment. His photographs are unique not only because the ANP is unique, but because of his empathy with his subjects, and the beauty he is able to bring to such chaotic juxtaposition.
The alliance between the ANP and their British “trainers” is encapsulated in one exceptional image: a mouse sits trapped on a rose, beneath it a scorpion. It is finely balanced between respect and death: neither has a safe way out.
“Something about looking through a lens, rather than a rifle sight calmed me down. Recording the situation somehow made it okay. The guys around me laughed; there is often something about being in extreme danger that’s funny.” Bran Symondson
The ANP paint their weapons with naive folk art, decorating them with flowers to beautify and soften their existence. In a culture where women are hidden away in compounds, men turn to each other for comfort and sexual gratification. These intimate relationships are prominent in Symondson’s work, which shows the strong bonds these men share. The images are all the more surprising in a culture where homosexuality is punishable by death. A character frequently seen is the ‘Chai boy’, shown below. He has a similar status to that of a beautiful woman; in return for sexual acts with older members within the group, he is cared for and can manipulate his adoring circle.
As well as some 60 intimate portraits of the ANP and their world, the exhibition will include ephemeral items such as original anti-Taliban leaflets, Symondson’s trusty worn-out camera, and other objects he has used to document his experience. A programme of special events and talks will run alongside the exhibition, including a photographer’s tour around the gallery, to give viewers an insight into a world that is so different from here.
“I genuinely believe that Bran’s extraordinary pictures could become images by which this conflict is remembered for decades to come. I cannot praise them, or Bran’s courageousness and talent, highly enough. Bran’s photographs are unlike any I have ever seen. An enormously accomplished reportage photographer, his outlook is unique.” James Mullinger, Photo Editor, GQ Magazine
“We feel privileged to have such outstanding photography here in the gallery. Bran’s images give the outsider a look into the relationships that are unfolding in Afghanistan.” Eloise Rowley, Gallery Manager
Dates: 28th Jan – 20th Feb 2011 Private View: 27th Jan 2011
Address: Idea Generation Gallery
11 Chance Street
London E2 7JB
Tube: Liverpool Street or Old Street
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday: 10pm - 6pm
Saturday & Sunday: 12pm – 5pm
First Thursdays: Open to 8pm