A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan — often in full
view of customs officers at the Kabul airport. The cash, estimated
to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf
emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their
families and funds, according to US and Afghan officials.
— Washington Post, February 25, 2010
It’s not often in the market of photo books, saturated as it is with new editions by the pallet-load, that a title comes along that outshines all the others. Poppy is one such a book.
Poppy charts a 20 year journey along the highways and byways of the Afghan heroin trade. It is a story of unimaginable ambition and importance, affecting all our lives. The sheer scale of the subject matter makes it an impossible task to document comprehensively and for that reason Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong did not set out to do so. Instead, over the course of working as a photographer and radio reporter, on assignments for magazine and radio clients, they made repeated journeys to Afghanistan, the Middle East, the new republics of the former Soviet Union, and of course to regions within Europe and Holland where they live. They collected facts, met the people, witnessed the effects and explored the arteries of the drug trade.
From farmers to traffickers, to underworld crime gangs and corrupt politicians, Robert Knoth and Antoinette de Jong followed heroin’s trail all the way to the back rooms of money laundering establishments in Karachi and Dubai and the beachside resorts of the nouveau riche on the Black Sea.
Knoth and de Jong told me in May, when they visited Foto8 to talk about the project, that the sheer quantity of work they had accumulated on and around the subject was so vast that they quickly understood that it would not suffice to just distill twenty years into an small edit of what were supposed to represent the best looking photographs. Alongside the innovative and talented editors and designers at Paradox, they agreed that the most effective way to convey the truth of what they had found was to also include pictures that were raw, re-printed or crudely copied. These images hold the story and convey its meaning most urgently. The result is an arresting array of quotations, photographs, maps and facts that go straight to the heart of the story with clarity and honesty.
Poppy is a brick of a tome. Heavy enough, one might suspect, to be used as a weapon to bludgeon its reader with the truth about heroin. Its full bleed pictures, interspersed with essays and a continual commentary of captions, maintain a fast pace and urgency. Similarly the museum installation of Poppy, exhibited earlier this year in Holland, is a multi layered cacophony of sounds, moving and still images, maps and texts; There are no framed prints or gallery illuminated works of art here, but rather an exhibition that has been designed as a venue. A five-track, 12 metre long film montage reflects the book in an altogether different, cinematic way, setting Poppy upon a pedestal of immense photographic, journalistic and design achievement.
I stated when I first saw Poppy that it re-affirmed my belief in the power of publishing photojournalism. With its originality and integrity Poppy is, without doubt, my book of the year.
Poppy, a short trailer to book and exhibition:
Pages: 492 (384 pages colour and b&w images)
Text: 108 pages English
Size: 170×240 mm, hard cover
Co-published by: YdocPublishing / Hatje Cantz Verlag
http://www.ydocfoundation.org/ and http://www.hatjecantz.de/
Standard price: € 39.50 (incl. VAT)
Poppy is a Paradox Project: http://www.paradox.nl
nederlands fotomuseum exhibition 31 Mar-10 Jun 2012