Beauty in Tough Places 

Boise State grad and Rhodes scholar Elena Gallina trains her lens on the people of Afghanistan

Shortly after the terrorist attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in an attempt to bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice. What followed was the destabilization of the country and the longest-running armed conflict in U.S. history. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and American troops remain there to this day. Despite it all, life in Afghanistan goes on, and earlier this year, Boise State University graduate Elena Gallina went there to document women leaders in that country.

"This particular project was exploring beauty. With taking photos, I was taking portraits of Afghan women, political figures, teenage girls, designers, artists, university students—and asking them about what role beauty plays in their lives," she said.

Gallina is currently based out of Oxford in the United Kingdom on a Rhodes scholarship, but took some time out with Boise Weekly to share some photographs from her trip. Always on the search for beauty, Gallina frequently snapped shots as she was driven through the capital of Kabul, and right on the street in Herat, a city near the border with Iran. These photos, she said, help re-humanize the people of Afghanistan, even in the shadow of a long-running conflict.

"The only images that come out of those places are of destruction, and what's overlooked, or missed, are people just living their lives on the street," she said.

click to enlarge ELENA GALLINA
  • Elena Gallina

"It's not uncommon for people at stop lights to come around asking for money. Part of the experience of sitting in a cab and having people beg at the window—Kabul is unique in that there's a lot of dignity exchanged between the driver, the rider and the people asking for money. ... I guess what I love is the stillness. There's grief in his stance, but what stood out to me was the dignity of even those asking for money. In this case, the older gentleman, [it was] just his walk. ... My driver almost always gave money to those asking in a way that I didn't feel [was] pitying."

click to enlarge ELENA GALLINA
  • Elena Gallina

"Me, my interpreter and another Afghan photographer had to negotiate our way [into this mosque in Herat] because technically it had closed for the day to tourists. People are allowed in but because prayer was about to start, we had to haggle to be able to pop in and snap a few photos. ... Afghans agree this is a very beautiful mosque. It's a reverent and gorgeous location. The whole atmosphere is different from a street scene. Kabul is very dusty and polluted, and Herat is known for fresh air and colors, and that was very prominent in my photography."

click to enlarge ELENA GALLINA
  • Elena Gallina

"This scene, this moment, was one of my favorites because he's fully engaged with whatever it is he's up to. He seems to be tinkering with the bike. I was given 20 minutes and allowed to leave my armored car, and I negotiated and got more conservatively dressed, even, and walked down the street for just 20 minutes. This was one of the first things that I saw when I was walking along. This was not a bustling street; it wasn't downtown, but I love that this kid is in his own world."

click to enlarge ELENA GALLINA
  • Elena Gallina

"What struck me in this moment: I was in the cab at this point after this interview, quite tired from taking in so much information. This gentleman was sitting there, unperturbed by the world around him. There's so much symmetry to what's going on. ... I was deeply struck by his sense of calm or contemplation. Who knows, but this is him living his life. ... Maybe that's what I love about the sense of familiarity of his posture and his legs. ... It's been there forever, and he's probably been there for a while on that street corner."

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