The Afghan Folio: Photographs by Luke Powell

The Young Sheperd
"The Young Sheperd"
Kunduz Province, Afghanistan
January 1975
Dye Transfer Print
© Luke Powell, 1996
Photographs by Luke Powell 

February 17 - April 22, 2005

"The Afghan Folio," an exhibition featuring thirty-two dye transfer prints of Afghanistan by native North Carolinian Luke Powell, will open in the Esther Thomas Atkinson Museum of Hampden-Sydney College on Thursday, February 17, and continue through Friday, April 22, 2005.

Inspired by religion and art as an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina, and later as a graduate student at Yale University, Powell combines his academic accomplishment and travel with his artistic talent in the field of photography to draw attention to a nation in need. As a pre-industrial society, the subject of Afghanistan has been a major focus of his work and reveals his fascination with the timeless beauty of its medieval architecture, pastoral landscapes, and the unique culture and traditions of the Islamic world.

"The Afghan Folio" takes the viewer on a journey through the farms, villages, and deserts of Afghanistan during the 1970s and early 1980s - before industrialization, the invasion of the Soviet Union (1978), or the period of Taliban control and American liberation. Powell's primary concern has been to record the vanishing "old-world" beauty and peace of Afghanistan, now filled with violence and destruction, and combine it with the thread of older artistic traditions.

Powell's work reflects the strong influence of the color and balance of rugs from Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, combined with older traditions of landscape painting, such as the 12th and 13th century Southern Song landscape painters of China; the mid 19th century Hudson River School or American "Luminist" painters, the 19th century French Barbizon School, and Japanese Ukiyo-e landscapes. He used a printing method called the "dye transfer process," one of the most beautiful color printing methods available in the late twentieth century, which allows the artist to have better control of color balance, highlights, shadows, or other special challenges. It is a delicate and time-consuming procedure that involves shooting the original slide through red, green, and blue filters. The colors of a dye transfer print can be remarkably clean and subtle, and they are much more permanent than prints produced by conventional processes.

In the fall of 2000, Powell returned to Afghanistan to photograph the minefields, minefield victims, and affected communities for UNAUSA (United Nations Association of the U.S.A.) in Taliban controlled areas and human rights images for UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) in areas controlled by the Northern Alliance.

Powell has had over 100 solo exhibitions in over 30 states and six Canadian provinces from major museums like the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery and the Royal Ontario Museum to small art centers. His work has been shown in Russia at Manesh Hall, in Germany at the Fotographie Forum Frankfurt, and at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva.

He holds a B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1969, and a M.A.R. from Yale Divinity School, Yale University, 1972. His work has appeared in numerous books, such as Vermont, written by Don Mitchell, Compass American Guides, 

Mosque Window
Mosque Window
Detail from shrine of Khwaja Abu Nasr Parsa, Blakh, Afghanistan, 1975 Dye Transfer Print
© Luke Powell, 1985

Folor's Travel Publications, Inc., Oakland, CA, 2001 (100 color photographs), and Ladakh et Zanscar, éditions Séguier, Paris/Biarritz, 2001 (137 color plates) just to name a few. He has received the Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1990, Best of Category and Grand Award in the Annual Communications Awards Competition, Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, 1988, and The Two Brothers Fellowship, Yale University, 1971.

An opening reception, free and open to the community, will be held on Thursday, February 24, 2005, at 4:30 PM in the East Gallery of the Esther Thomas Atkinson Museum. The museum is located on College Road at Hampden-Sydney College, Hampden-Sydney, Virginia. Hours: Tuesday - Friday, 12:30 PM - 4:30 PM and other times by appointment. For more information about the museum and other programs, please contact Lorie Mastemaker, Director-Curator of the Esther Thomas Atkinson Museum, at 434-223-6134.