Interestingly enough they do allow their own religious music (called Tehranas) which push themes of holly war backed by beats influenced by dub, & modern trap music.
Rules regardless, driving 8, 12, even 14 hours overland into remote regions of Nuristan good road music is a necessity to keep spirits high & eyes sharp.
The Nuristan province was historically referred to as Kafiristan (Kafirs being “infidels”) up until the last of the locals where converted to Islam by force a century ago. As in the past Nuristan remains exceedingly remote, requiring many treacherous hours of off road driving, & steep gains in altitude to reach. Even then each district of the province is isolated from the next by impassible terrain.
Nuristan’s isolation has kept it largely peaceful during the last 20 years of war, locals will tell you, again & again, they haven’t heard a gunshot in 20 years. The arduous journey was well worth it, yielding some of the most riveting landscapes I have ever seen, & allowing me to finish “Afghan Style”, my first photo book.
More on that later, for now enjoy some road music:
Observations: The War in Ukraine
You can view my photo report on Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force for Esquire here, but I have also written a more detailed companion piece below for Observers:
24 days after Russia’s Invasion Of Ukraine it’s armies have failed the sweeping conquest Russia and much of the world expected. Russia’s armies lay mired in conflict, confined largely to the East and South of the country, having captured only one large city thus far. In the North the capital of Kyiv has yet to be encircled. The Russian Military has encountered un-forecasted resistance in all majors cities, it’s supply lines have broken under constant attack, and the Ukrainian military has displayed a surprising, deadly mobility. All of these factors can be contributed in part to the work of the Territorial Defense Forces, an all volunteer force that’s had less than a month to train and mobilize before the invasion began.
To better understand these volunteers and the role they play I spent two weeks photographing Territorial Defense units in and around Kyiv. I met men as old as 68 , as young as 18, and saw a few of 16 turned away. Many where veterans, some had no experience at. They included Foreign Legionaires, flight attendants, native Russians, Russian jailed journalists, actors and newly wed couples. What they had in common was a fierce love of country. There role is a combination of army engineer, paramilitary and police: they build the fortifications on the streets they patrol and will soon defend by force.
The first Territorial Defense Volunteers I met during my transit from Poland to Kyiv. Men of different ages, all with the same stony eyes fixed east against the stream of refugees that ran more torrential with each train station passed towards Kyiv. The first Territorial Defense group I met was filling sandbags from the sand of a children’s playground. The next had in 24 hours survived a Russian rocket attack and aided a Ukrainian Army unit in a complex ambush of artillery, javelins missiles and Molotov cocktails. The shells of Destroyed Russian BRDM-2s became fortifications for their position. At a nearby patrol base a man in his 60’s crouches in the dark jamming magazines full with bullets, then unloading them, and jamming them again full. I turned on a flashlight and he waved me away “I have to be able to do this in the dark”
In the West heavy fighting in Irpin has closed the area to Journalists. A Territorial Defense volunteer bars our entry. Ducking down at the sound of a rocket barrage another volunteer explains it’s a Ukrainian battery attempting to pummel Russian forces before they can establish themselves in Irpin. He says all this without looking up, inserting bullet after bullet into a belt of machine gun ammunition. A majority of my time was spent with a Territorial defense company on the outskirts of Kyiv, commanded by “Anatoly” a 20 year veteran of Ukraine’s Counter Terrorism forces. The days are spent re-enforcing positions, the nights enforcing Kyiv’s wartime curfew and searching for Russian Saboteurs or their work. The first Patrol of the night is anything but routine. After a short pursuit a man is caught after curfew, he can’t answer simple questions about the surrounding area and is without identity papers. A search of the area yields a forced lock. The Territorial Defense squad clears the attached building. An aged local invites the squad into her atrium of plants and animals left behind by fleeing families. Promises that the 3 am patrol will be less exciting prove false. The slightly younger squad patrols aggressively, more than even the -10 cold necessitates. Entering a low laying parking lot the night sky suddenly glows near white as tracers struggle to intercept cruise missiles. The patrol moves to cover wordlessly as air raid sirens blair. The nights bombardment has started and wont let up till the sun has risen. Returning to base the patrol breaks out cigarettes “the best breakfast” says one, “sunrise is the best breakfast” says another.
The sun has risen just as the nights last patrol crawls into sleeping bags. Crackling radios signal an alert of an imminent Russian ground incursion. The entire company makes ready, rushing to the defensive positions. A tense hour is passed listening to the radio and peering over rifle sights through firing loopholes. The alarm is called off, the Territorial Defense unit returns to base; some to bed, some to the next patrol. Over morning tea soldiers smoke with one hand and break loose bullets to be loaded with the other.
Afghanistan has been entwined with America for more than 20 years of war, but to say Afghanistan, to see it on the news, does not call to mind an idea of who the Afghans are. Even to the hundreds of thousand like myself who served in the war, Afghans remain unknown. With that in mind I approached Esquire about an Afghan assignment in early 2020. In Early 2021 I spent a month in Kabul photographing Afghans as President Biden’s withdrawal announcement loomed over a period of relative peace.
Why Afghanistan? Why Style? You can find out for yourself on Esquire as of today, and read my own narrative of the project below.
Fashion, that is clothes, how they are worn and what is communicated with them is found best at the extremes. To my experience these are the cities on the leading edge of culture, and the small blank spaces on the map in the American conscience, passed over by the homogeny of industry. I can think of no more unjustly a blank space in the American mind than Afghans. With President Biden’s announcement of withdrawal imminent I set out in late February 2021 to document Afghan style.
In Kabul, from the street kids born into the war, to old men whose empty sleeves and folded pant legs where pinned back in the last 40 years of it, each one stared me in the eye, unwavering. They stand tall behind peddlers carts, on crutches, arm in arm with friends. If they had work they showed it to me eagerly: rings, rags, hand quilted velvet, glistened vegetables, calluses like cherry tomatoes. I learned never to photograph butchers.
Piran Tamban (a matched long shirt with wide cropped trouser) and the 9ft long Patoo shawl are the national costume, and nowhere besides Kabul will you see more variation on it. Color, embroidery, hem shape and headwear can easily distinguish the region an Afghan calls home. The accessories of note are military field jackets and vests made iconic by Ahmad Shah Massoud, who apposed the Taliban, and Cheetah sneakers made famous by them.
Kabul was one of the last cities in Afghanistan to resist Taliban contention largely due to ongoing peace talks. The capital had been beyond their control but not their daily reach. Small bombs targeting government employees, local journalists and activists were a daily occurrence. From the center of town I never heard them. The shooting heard occasionally were unrelated. When I ask about gunfire down the street, I’m told “They shot a thief”.
For all the anxiety and danger I expected to find in returning, it was the un-expected return to tribe that shocked me. T.M and Jim, longstanding Kabul correspondents are my guides. Fast friends, and fast Fridays spent tearing up Kabuls emptier quarters on two wheels, or well worn rugs at house parties.
After a few weeks I developed a little report with the familiar faces of Kabul’s streets. Those Afghans I could speak to asked: “what do Americans think of Afghans? bad people? bombs? terrorists?”.
I lied. Because Americans do not think of Afghans at all.
After years of perfecting my own denim, I am offering them to the public. Denim is a known quantity, but OD’s (Observer Denims) require explanation…
“ Don’t they get dirty? ” Sure, but 4 years of riding motorcycles, crashing them, scooters, crashing them, sailing, shooting, remote villages, bustling fashion capitals, bustling conflict capitals, hail, overflowing gutters, 20w 30, & A-, has all come out in the wash, tap cold on delicate.
I’ve never gone without packing them, or a week without wearing them. OD’s can be worn as easily with a tailored jacket as they can a field shirt. Worn with a patina, or boiled with a weeks worth of coffee grounds they are even suitable for conflict environments.
Improvements to the denim format start with the Self-Belt system. Adjustable with one hand the self belt system removes the need for a belt, & helps adjust for weight fluctuations on the road. The self belt system can be routed overtly from the center waist or covertly from the side seam.
Another innovation, the Self-Hem system allows you to cut your denim to one of 2 pre-sewn hem lines, saving your OD’s from fraying excessively & you a trip to the tailors. Wash you’re OD’s before hemming.
The pattern of the O.D’s are an amalgam between my preferred silhouette: very high waisted, suppressed waist, with a clean, straight, athletic cut from the hipline, & feedback from 7 samples sent out for testing to Observers around the globe. I’d urge you to compare the provided measures to a few of your own pairs before purchasing, if in doubt size up from your measured size as OD’s adjust down.
The Hardware & fabric for the OD’s are equally considered. I developed proprietary Observer nickel plated brass buttons & rivets, painted with white enamel as a little nod the surfer’s pendants I grew up with. The fabric is an ideal 11.5 oz Cone Mills broken twill denim. With Cone Mills demise the last of American Selvage Denim blinked out of existence, this is some of the last yardage available after the mills closure. The broken twill gives the denim a casual texture, that cleans up well with tailoring & takes stains better than any other fabric trialed.
The OD Pre-Order closes 07/20 with an expected ship date of 08/31, you can order your own pair here.