The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

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Overview

In 1986, Afghanistan was torn apart by a war with the Soviet Union. This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter’s arduous and dangerous journey through Afghanistan, accompanying the Doctors Without Borders. Didier Lefevre’s photography, paired with the art of Emmanuel Guibert, tells the powerful story of a mission undertaken by men and women dedicated to mending the wounds of war.

Winner of the 2010 Eisner Award ...

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Overview

In 1986, Afghanistan was torn apart by a war with the Soviet Union. This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter’s arduous and dangerous journey through Afghanistan, accompanying the Doctors Without Borders. Didier Lefevre’s photography, paired with the art of Emmanuel Guibert, tells the powerful story of a mission undertaken by men and women dedicated to mending the wounds of war.

Winner of the 2010 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"An unflinching and gripping photographic memoir, the Photographer takes you on a breathtaking journey through the best and worst humanity has to offer in times of war. Turning its pages, the reader begins to understand what it means to lose everything as a refugee of war, to cross mountains to help someone you never met, to feel the intense responsibility of being the only one able to capture the last moments of a child's stolen life. Suddenly Afghanistan, a distant land, a foreign culture, a courageous and resilient people seem closer, more familiar--more human. I love this book."
--Angelina Jolie, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

“The Photographer is a work of stunning originality and power. It seamlessly blends personal storytelling, photography, and illustration to reveal the essential work of Doctors Without Borders. It is to Didier Lefevre’s immense credit that he risked his life to bring that story to light. This amazing work gives us a window into the suffering and perseverance of the Afghan people. Above all else, it is a truly inspiring piece of work.” -- Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm

“One of the most amazing publications I’ve ever read.” -- Rachel Maddow, MSNBC

“There is no fighting in this book. No great warriors are exalted. The story is about those who live on the fringes of war and care for its human detritus. By the end of the book the image or picture of a weapon is distasteful. And if you can achieve this, you have gone a long way to imparting the truth about warfare.” – The New York Times Book Review

“An inspiring book about a perpetually knotty country at the height of the Soviet-Afghan conflict, The Photographer should be mandatory reading for our Secretary of State and President.” – The Boston Globe

“A sweeping declaration of human strength, compassion and creative power.” – The LA Times

“Haunting . . . a riveting account.” – The Washington Post

"Reading The Photographer is a simply stunning experience: you emerge from your time spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan with Didier and the members of MSF a better, more thoughtful person." -- Nancy Pearl, NPR

“A gripping adventure that sheds light on subjects as diverse as faith, photography, art, love, nobility, Soviet-Afghani relations, pride, masculinity, racism, and bravery. This isn’t just a great photography book, it’s a great novel, a great comic, a great memoir, and a great history text.” -- boingboing

“The Photographer is an absorbing graphic memoir . . . Lefevre’s work is stunning, capturing not just the beauty of the terrain, but the stories etched onto the faces of the Afghan people.” – The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“The Photographer will make you weep, laugh and empty your pockets to donate to the extraordinarily courageous Doctors Without Borders.” – The Hartford Advocate

The Photographer marries the amazing pictures of Didier Lefevre with the images and text of Emmanuel Guibert. The result is a blazingly honest, riveting memoir that stands as one of the best examples of graphic literature.” – The Graphic Novel Reporter

“A staggering graphic achievement . . . The Photographer is a huge, huge success, graphically, narratively, humanistically.” -- Newsarama

“A haunting and at times harrowing tale that highlights the cost of war on the people of Afghanistan while illuminating the humanitarian mission of the volunteers that work with Doctors Without Borders.” – Publisher’s Weekly Comics Week

“A compelling, one-of-a-kind reading experience . . . bringing you the real-world adventure of a young photographer risking his life with one of the bravest, most beloved humanitarian organizations in the world.” – Shelf Awareness

“An incredibly honest portrayal of common figures in the middle of incredible situations.” – Inkstuds

“Stunning and unique.” – Playback: stl

“Perhaps no medium other than this one’s could convey so tangibly what it is to deliver ‘human services’ in a war zone in one of the least geographically hospitable, most beautiful places on earth. A magnificent achievement.” – Booklist, starred review

“An expansive narrative that ranges from a discerning glimpse of a very different and variegated culture to an at times heartbreaking chronicle of the horrors of modern warfare to a desperate struggle for survival. . . . an unforgettable reading experience.” ICv2

“[A] magnificent and moving account of the human costs of war.” – Library Journal, starred review

“Starkly beautiful . . . magnificent.” – Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“Horrifying and glorious. . . . a part of the world that should be discussed more often.” – VOYA

Library Journal
06/01/2014
A remarkable look at war and hardship in northern Afghanistan during the 1986 fighting between the Soviets and the mujahideen, told through a combination of illustrations and photography. The photographs were taken by photojournalist Didier Lefèvre (1957–2007) when he accompanied a Doctors Without Borders mission that was transformative for both the medical team and those they served. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 7/7/09)
Douglas Wolk
The Photographer is a riveting account of Lefevre's first journey and his experiences in Zaragandara, the Afghan town where Doctors Without Borders set up a makeshift hospital. Lefevre's blisteringly forceful black-and-white photographs, and sometimes his contact sheets, appear on nearly every page of the book. So does Emmanuel Guibert's artwork. The cartoonist adapted his friend's memories of the trip into comics form, filling in the spaces between photos with sequences that bind the story together (and providing, understandably, almost every image we see of Lefevre himself) and explain what was happening at less photogenic moments.
—The Washington Post
Chris Hedges
It is impossible to know war if you do not stand with the mass of the powerless caught in its maw. All narratives of war told through the lens of the combatants carry with them the seduction of violence. But once you cross to the other side, to stand in fear with the helpless and the weak, you confront the moral depravity of industrial slaughter and the scourge that is war itself. Few books achieve this clarity. The Photographer is one. A strange book, part photojournalism and part graphic memoir, The Photographer tells the story of a small mission of mostly French doctors and nurses who traveled into northern Afghanistan by horse and donkey train in 1986, at the height of the Soviet occupation. The book shows the damage done to bodies and souls by shells, bullets and iron fragments, and the frantic struggle to mend the broken.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This documentary graphic novel brings together starkly beautiful black and white photographs taken by Lefèvre, intimate drawings by Guibert, skillful design by Lemercier and a vibrant translation and thorough introduction by Siegel. In 1986, photographer Lefèvre was hired by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF; Doctors Without Borders), to document a mission into northern Afghanistan. Along the way, he and the doctors, guides and interpreters with whom he traveled endured physical hardship and the fracas of war. In one memorable scene, the group must cross an open plateau where Russian planes fired on the previous MSF caravan. Photographs acting as panels emphasize the vast openness of the plateau, while drawings allow a glimpse of the small human gestures of the travelers. Arriving on the other side of the plateau, they reach a wooded area "where, two years ago, they buried the man who didn't make it." This revelation is punctuated by a large photograph of the burial mound under the trees, the mix of drawings and photographs heightening the emotional impact. Originally published in three volumes in France, the book has sold more than 250,000 copies there, and the reach of this magnificent work promises to extend far beyond the graphic novel community. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Originally published as three volumes in France from 2003 to 2006, this graphic novel follows photojournalist Didier Lefevre during his three months in Pakistan and Afghanistan in 1986 as he documented the medical missions of Doctors without Borders. Unable to travel by road because the Soviet army monitored them, they journeyed through the mountain passes in caravans of horses and donkeys. The villages where they stopped along the way showcased the horrors of a war-torn country, the damage done to both the people and the countryside, and how humanity still survives. His solo journey back to Pakistan is wrought with hardship including abandonment by his escorts, freezing temperatures, the death of his horse, illness, and being taken advantage of by both escorts and police. The chronicle of Lefevre's learning experience creates a similar effect on the reader. The graphic novel combines traditional comic art with some of the four thousand photographs Lefevre shot while in Afghanistan. The comic artwork by Guibert is primarily small square panels with realistic figures. The powerful photographs are where the real story unfolds. Many images will stay with readers as both horrifying and glorious. The Afghan children being treated for burns, bullet wounds, and shrapnel are page by page next to the beauty of the Afghan mountainous landscapes. Although this nonfiction graphic novel will not be very popular with the common reader, it has a powerful message and images of a part of the world that should be discussed more often. Reviewer: Kristin Fletcher-Spear
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up—Lefèvre was a photographer who attached himself to a 1986 Doctors Without Borders (MSF) expedition into Afghanistan during its war with the USSR. Almost 20 years later, he worked with artist Guibert to create this stunning narrative of that trip. Lefèvre shot well over 100 rolls of film in Pakistan and Afghanistan as he crossed the border in a donkey convoy, watched the medical staff diagnose and treat young and old wounded in the war or sickened by disease, and headed back into Pakistan escorted only by a variety of guides, not all of whom had his interests uppermost in their minds. Guibert worked with Lefèvre to create the story that links these photographic images, most of which are black and white, with panels beautifully colored by Lemercier. The latter describe relationships among the travelers and with the local people, Lefèvre's political awakening, and assorted physical and emotional hazards, especially on his return trip without an MSF escort. This tour de force is essential reading for students interested in international relations, journalism, memoir, and the practice of medicine in Third World circumstances. Lefèvre's initial lack of political sophistication will resonate with thoughtful teens.—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596433755
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 224,173
  • Product dimensions: 10.86 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Emmanuel Guibert’s most recent book for First Second was the critically acclaimed Alan’s War, the memoir of a WWII G.I. His close friendship with Didier Lefevre inspired him to combine art and photography to create this momentous book.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2009

    A photography book of a different kind

    It's not what you think. That's the thing that came to my mind when I began reading this photography book. It's not really a photography book, it's an essay, it's a comic, it's contemporary, it's graphics, it's an illustrated adventure from 1986 and it's a true story.

    Photojournalist Didier Lefèvre joined a team of Doctors Without Borders in 1986 and followed them into Afghanistan to illustrate their efforts to help ease the suffering of the people by providing medical services. The country was literally torn apart by the war between the Soviet Union who invaded Afghanistan and the Afghan Resistance supported by America and other Western Countries.

    Once the Soviets retreated there was no peace but extremists took over and created even more war and conflict amongst the people. The American people were presented with a steep price ticket for getting involved on September 11, 2003.

    This is the backdrop of the story. A mess that I cannot really understand enough because I don't know enough about it, really. So I begin reading. The book is illustrated much like a comic book and it is Didier's photographs that fill in the story. I find myself reading and looking at the image thinking, this is not just a story, this happened. And I read, and read and read.

    "You know, for example, if you have an aperture of 11 with a shutter speed of 1/60th, and you decide to close the diaphragm down to 5-6 for a shallower depth of field, you'll automatically have to increase shutter speed by two stops". "Hm". "That becomes second nature. But of course being able to produce a technically good picture doesn't mean you'll make great pictures. For great pictures you really have to tear your eyes out. I want to pour all my energy into improving my photography. I want to take good pictures." "And what is a good picture?" "I don't know."

    It is a story so well told that it draws you in- completely. A documentary as good as as it gets. Photojournalism as it is intended to be - an eye witness account shown to us image by image. Told by a naive and at first innocent photographer who is in way over his head but somehow manages. Illustrated with humor and pictures so simplistic and gripping. Each a testament to how incredibly lucky we are to live in peace and in a democratic environment. A journey serving as a dark reminder that even idealistic and well meaning people can die or get very ill.

    What Emmanuel Guibert has done with the book is for lack of a better word amazing. Was it not for his graphics and the way he has put it together - we wouldn't be able to read it. Emmanuel makes us watch and observe the story. His illustrations give us a much needed rest during the heartbreak we see. Doubtful that it could have been told in a more suitable way. This holds true especially for our society that doesn't like to be confronted with the realities of what war really looks like for those who are in it.

    To sum it up, it is not an easy book. It will make you think, ponder and perhaps you may get angry on why war is still tolerated. But you read it anyway and you think about it some more.

    The beauty is, this is what Didier Lefèvre had set out to do. To tell a story as a photojournalist and he has done it masterfully and with heart. I am with him through the journey, I know when he is happy that he can capture through the lens of the camera what he can't bare to watch with his eyes open.

    And I cry when he cries.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Lefevre: The Photographer

    A quick read that will stay with you. The real treasure here is the photography. I had read a bit on Afghanistan - mostly Ahmed Rashid - before picking this up. This book helped me develop an emotional connection to the crisis that prose alone isn't always conducive to. Sufficient illustrations and a good story supplement Didier's photographs.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    You feel like you have been there

    This was such a suprising book. I found myself completely rapt to see how well the execution of the book worked--the interleaving actual photographs with graphic depictions of the travel and work of Doctors Without Borders in the northeast corner of Afghanistan. Didier Lefevre, the photographer of the title, and his collaborators on this book, had personality enough to keep the tone moving constantly through interesting, awestruck, serious, funny, fearful. While the beauty of Afghanistan was constantly remarked upon, it was only at the end that I could see beauty there, in that stony and stark environment. There is something about the quality of the light and the air that is absolutely unique, and unforgettable. This book gives us something very special. It is a great gift shared.

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    Posted December 15, 2009

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    Posted May 31, 2010

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