This photograph was made in the spring of 1978 on my 10th visit to Afghanistan. I was 31, and I had two degrees in religious studies. In Afghanistan there was a word for a traveling religious scholar. Christians and Jews had been among these travelers for centuries; I was welcomed almost everywhere.

I chose to work not as a scholar or a journalist but as an artist. I went out each morning open to what Afghanistan could show me, instead of trying to illustrate ideas that I already had in mind. When I took this image, two weeks before the Communists came to power, we were two days’ ride from the nearest paved road. 

Between 1989 and 2000 this was one of the 32 images in the exhibition “The Afghan Folio” that was shown in more than 120 museums and galleries in the us and Canada. When it showed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev saw it and had it exhibited in Moscow. More than a million visitors saw it in 1989 alone. After 2001 bookings ceased, and it has not been shown since 2008.

—Luke Powell


Afghan Gold. Luke Powell.
2013, Steidl Books, 978-3- 86930-648-3, €98, hb.