Thomas Dworzak: The child and the kite

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A picture can narrate a personal story, a historical event, an image of the past, in greater detail and with more elegance.

In 2001, in Afghanistan, a religious, political and social crisis was taking place. “Pandora’s box” had opened, and the bloody civil war, with a destructive draught, had as an effect a massive population movement, people abandoning everything they knew, losing their homeland, and trying to survive in new conditions.

The totalitarian government of the Taliban had forbidden women leaving the house without a man or without a bourka, since 1996. Girls over 8 years old weren’t allowed schooling. Galleries, museums, and historical monuments had been destroyed by the fury and the fanaticism of the Taliban. Women guilty of adultery were stoned to death. The extremism and the absurdity had reached such a level that even flying a kite was forbidden.

Essentially, all children were deprived of the most self-evident things. Happiness and carelessness. Childhood innocence was lost, with children being witnesses and spectators of war crimes, extreme violence, and many having lost their security, their homeland, their parents, and everything they considered everyday life up to that point.

The ugliness of war has a heavy price. Ria Britto, the leader of UNICEF for Early Childhood Development, had mentioned that “besides the immediate physical threats the children face in times of crises, they also face the danger of deep-rooted psychological traumas.” The children are turning in tomorrow’s citizens, poisoned by “a toxic stress” which will inhibit their long-term emotional, cognitive and social development, notes UNICEF. Today, over 86.7 million children under the age of 7 have lived their whole lives in war zones, according to UNICEF’s data. Even today, million of children ropewalk between life and death, in war zones throughout the world.

Being a photographer in a war zone is more dangerous than people believe. The hardness of everyday life lowers the chance of survival. War photographers may be protected under International Humanitarian Law, but history has shown how that is not always enough. War photography has proven to be a dangerous and risky sport, since terrorist attacks work as minefields in war zones. During the Afghanistan crisis in 2000 – 2009, at least 45 photographers and camera operators were killed or abducted.

The German photographer Thomas Dworzak, member of Magnum, was covering in a shocking way the Afghanistan crisis. He lived in areas controlled by the Taliban, and was covering the large population shift beyond Pakistan’s borders of people looking for a new life, a hope for a more peaceful tomorrow.

In August of 2001, Thomas Dworzak was in the Jalozai camp, near Peshawar of Pakistan. The photograph above shows a child from Afghanistan playing with his kite, absorbed. He had faced destruction, a sudden change of environments, the shadow of war painted on his face, but the kite and his game still mean a lot to him. Children have the blessing of being able to be happy with very simple things, an ability that we adults sometimes… lose.

The day is rainy, the clouds low, the kite’s flight creates an eerie feel. The melancholic look creates a contrast between how natural a game is, and how hard the living conditions are in an immigrant camp, and how hard it is to adapt to them.

The colors are muted, as if trying to underline the child’s emotional condition. The color of the sunless sand is prevailing, almost uniform. The horizon is inclined. The child is standing up, as if his whole stance shows a resistance to the absurdity of war and the lack of logic of the world. The whole environment around the child is a desert and a sky without end, like his dreams should be. The tents represent the hard reality, that through a realistic look, are created by the adults.

Thankfully for the child, the sky is without borders. We don’t know if he had family or if he lost it in the madness of war. The sense of freedom that this image gives is admirable. In a world where every day freedom is not guaranteed, this child is still flying free, helped by the wind, his white kite in the color representing innocence and his childhood purity.

The kite’s flying could be considered a symbolic act of personal, spiritual and psychological freedom. Against the regime of terror and fear that the sovereign powers of the time had forced, a child, through his flying of a kite, demanded the right to be the master of his own self, and not a slave or controlled by the fear that the totalitarian regimes are trying to impose.

His action wasn’t depended on the fear-lust, the prejudices, the dogmas, the directed information, the sciolism and the ignorance that even today the totalitarian regimes are trying to impose.


Remember, daughter from Tserro/ the beloved homeland? Everything was initially totally green/ Now the holes from the tunnels are black”

Those lyrics from an old song from the Alps could be muttered among the children in the war zones that play between ruins and crossfire, until they are heavily wounded or even dead.

Wishing for wars to stop is something easy. “The fact that it doesn’t happen here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen in the world” is a great truth, and the motto of the Organization Save the Children.

Photo Credits: Thomas Dworzak, Magnum Photos

Sofia Dalamagka

Sofia Dalamagka

I am a passionate photographer and writer. I love art, travelling and old cameras. My favorite motto: If you going to try, go all the way.
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