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Afghanistan photos part of Charleston ArtWalk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As part of the West Virginia Air National Guard's Special Operations Detachment, Todd Harrell has been deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq during the past 10 years.

While on the ground in Afghanistan's towns, Harrell took thousands of engaging photographs of men and women walking around their often-remote and isolated towns, as well as children playing.

Thirty-five of his photographs, and a slide show, will be part of the monthly downtown Charleston ArtWalk, sponsored by the Charleston Area Alliance. ArtWalk, which typically includes exhibits in up to 15 different locations, takes place between 5 and 8 p.m.

"In 2002, I had spent close to 20 years with the West Virginia National Guard when I had the opportunity to deploy and work with special operations in Afghanistan," Harrell said.

"We were training a multi-ethnic, all volunteer army in Afghanistan. People there have strong family, tribal, regional and ethnic ties," Harrell said during an interview Wednesday.

"I have met with people from President [Hamid] Karzai to residents of remote villages, 100 miles from any electricity.

"You meet kids, 4 to 5 years old, who are as playful as kids here in the United States. But you wonder what their futures will be.

"At my exhibit, you will see a story that I was fortunate enough to see," Harrell said. "In my show, there is only one photo of a soldier, an Afghan soldier. I am not trying to make any political statement, just show some of the people we are helping over there."

Harrell said adults and children have always been very friendly during his visits to Afghanistan.

"In three trips over 10 years, I have never seen a kid run away from me. In general, people have been very accepting of our presence."

His photographs, Harrell believes, "show the resilience of people there. They are very photogenic -- from little girls, who are happy and colorful, to older men, whose faces speak volumes.

"They have a strength, a courage and a generosity that Americans can learn from."

Harrell's photographs were taken in towns like Pol-E-Charki, right outside Kabul (Afghanistan's capital city), to villages like Narang in eastern Afghanistan near its border with Pakistan.

Naomi Bays, curator of Harrell's photographic exhibit, said, "Afghanistan is in such a state of juxtaposition -- from the beauty of the landscape to the destruction and constant conflict, the fear and hope held within an expression of a child.

"A narrative of his journey was immediately apparent on first glance of the images," Bays said.

"You almost feel guilty leaving Afghanistan," Harrell said. "You realize there is so much more that needs to be done. You feel like you are abandoning them."

He doesn't want the people of Afghanistan to be forgotten. "I am doing my little part to bring their stories back to America."

Harrell also said, "I don't wish to make political statements or cultural judgments but rather share the faces of a nation that has known little but war and oppression for generations. I feel my images capture a sense of hope or perhaps just resolve."

A large portion of any sales of Harrell's work will go to the Afghanistan Relief Organization -- a nonpolitical, secular, nonprofit humanitarian organization that focuses on delivering relief aid to needy people throughout Afghanistan.

ArtWalk's website includes a map of downtown Charleston that identifies the offices and businesses that display monthly exhibits. Harrell's photographs will be on display at the Romano and Associates law offices, located at 230 Capitol St., Suite 200.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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