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Louie Palu is a documentary photographer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, festivals and exhibitions internationally, which includes the photojournalism festival Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan, France, New York Photo Festival with additional exhibitions in Sweden and the Netherlands.
Louie first traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2006 and continued covering the region extensively up through 2010 when he was awarded an Alexia Grant to continue photographing Kandahar.
He has been awarded numerous accolades including a, Silver Medal from the Society of Newspaper Design, awards from the White House News Photographers Association, Hearst Photography Biennial Award, 2008 Canadian Photojournalist of the Year, Hasselblad Master Award and a 2009 Aftermath Grant.
Louie's work has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, TIME, Newsweek, The Atlantic, The Economist, Virginia Quarterly Review and Sunday Times Magazine. He has worked on assignment internationally, focusing on the war in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay over the course of the last five years. Louie is represented by the photo agency ZUMA Press and is based out of Washington DC and Toronto.
Brief on The Alexia Foundation
In 2010 Louie Palu was awarded a grant from The Alexia Foundation for his project on Kandahar.
The Alexia Foundation promotes the power of photojournalism to give voice to social injustice, to respect history lest we forget it and to understand cultural difference as our strength — not our weakness. Through grants and scholarships, The Alexia Foundation supports photographers as agents for change.
Every year the Alexia Foundation awards a grant to a professional photographer to undertake a project that promotes cultural understanding and world peace. Louie Palu’s project on Kandahar was selected as the 2010 winning grant proposal.
Alexia Project PROPOSAL
By Louie Palu
This project will examine the cultural, historical and contemporary significance of Kandahar and it’s people within the region and the current Afghan state.
Pashtuns are Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group and dominate the province and city of Kandahar, which is the spiritual and former political capital of the Taliban movement lead by Mullah Mohammad Omar. Kandahar has always been at the center of all crossroads through this region of Asia for centuries. Ahmad Shah Durrani is credited with establishing the modern nation state of Afghanistan in 1747 and made Kandahar the first capitol of what would eventually become the Afghan state we know today.
Alexander the Great founded Kandahar around 330 BC and ever since it has been at the center of conflict for centuries, as various empires have fought over its strategic location within Asia. Almost every major empire has fought to control or tame Kandahar including Ghengis Khan and his Mongol army, the British Empire, Soviet Russia and now a US lead NATO force. Looking at the region from another view it was here that a group of religious students formed a militia in the 1990’s and within a short period of time took over almost the entire country calling themselves the Taliban. It is also here that Osama Bin Laden set up his headquarters and training camp at Tarnak Farms where the attacks of 9/11 were believed to have originated. Kandahar has many lush green zones and was once known as the breadbasket of Afghanistan for it’s agricultural production around the Arghandab River. It is in the summer during what many call “The Fighting Season” in these green zones that some of the most violent and bitter fighting takes place in the country.
Flash forward to the past several years and it is here in 2006 that the insurgency attempted to launch an assault on Kandahar City signaling the beginning of a new and reborn insurgency. Ever since the insurgency has spread. It is here that I believe the world must focus to understand the people, their hopes and needs to find a path to end this conflict. There is no single place in the world that can equal or share the unfortunate timeline of war and destruction that Afghanistan has experienced for so long. Afghanistan is one of the few and only countries in the world that has never had a rail line. The majority of the people draw water from wells and rivers and have no electricity or running water. Most Afghans live in mud walled compounds that look like scenes from biblical times. Few Afghans know there age as record keeping has been virtually destroyed by decades of fighting.
I began my journey to document the situation in Kandahar in 2006 and have been going back every year since. I believe the answers to finding a path to a stable Afghanistan is in understanding the land and it’s people first, not only the insurgency and their methods of warfare. This project will seek to go further into many distant districts to document the cultural and social fabric of villages centuries old and their tribal and ethnic affiliations. Many villages I have been to have never met a journalist and don’t even understand what a journalist does. I have come to know the region well and have all the contacts to work independently from the military. As a balance, I will also explore the current NATO military mission and system to see if their manner is helping or harming the region as a continuous cycle of century old foreign interference. Is it possible to “fix” Afghanistan is one of the questions I will explore in contrast to “winning” in Afghanistan as most foreign governments involved in the conflict have focused on.
Many have called Afghanistan “the graveyard of empires”, but perhaps it more the graveyard of predictions and commitment to rebuilding on the part of the rest of the world. As the birthplace of the country and many of the countries current ills, Kandahar is where I believe many of our questions can be answered or at least explained and understood. This is where I propose to make a series of new pictures beyond just the war so we can actually understand the people most of the world is attempting to help and in some cases fight at the same time.