"Whether the day's news tells of air strikes, a new general or a surge in troops, the constantly shifting uncertainty of Afghanistan's present has demanded our attention since 2001. A graphic novel offering an entry point into the country's not-too-distant past is, then, unusual, illuminating and, in this case, breathtaking. The Photographer, in Alexis Siegel's vibrant translation from the French, takes us back to 1986, when photographer Didier Lefèvre accompanied a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) expedition into Afghanistan to establish one field hospital and staff another. The photographs taken by Lefèvre on that three-month trip form the heart of the book, which possesses a gritty, often gory reality. Lefèvre photographed villagers wounded by Soviet bombs; Afghan leaders who greeted, hosted and celebrated the members of the expedition; teenage mujahedin proudly displaying their machine guns before heading into battle; and the vast beauty and bombed-out destruction of the country. It was a decade later when Lefèvre sat down with his friend and acclaimed French graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert to tell his story. Guibert based his writing and drawing of the book on their hours of interviews, a working method that he also used to create the graphic novel Alan's War, which was nominated for four Eisner awards—the top honor in comics—this year. Guibert tells Lefèvre's story with engaging clarity, using his simple and expressive line drawings not to fill in holes around Lefèvre's photographs, but to create a world in which the photographs come to life. Within the book's three-part structure, Guibert allows great freedom for digressions, reflections and what feel like spur-of-the-moment explorations. We pause, for instance, to hear a doctor's story of how he came to Afghanistan; to listen to the mission's leader, Juliette Fournot, discuss the role of women in the country; and to watch Lefèvre struggle, often comically, with Afghan customs. If this narrative looseness occasionally results in a lack of clarity, the story's breadth and poignancy are always captivating. For it is, finally, the journey of the 29-year-old photographer that elevates The Photographer beyond the status of a historical document, giving it the fullness and life of literature. Early in the book, Lefèvre tells a doctor that technical perfection is one thing, but that to take a really good picture, 'you have to search for it, search all the time, all the time.' We watch him take photographs when he's half-asleep, under physical duress, even, finally, when he believes he is dying. This portrait of the artist is rendered even more moving by Lefèvre's premature death in 2007. The Photographer's unique mix of talent and media allows the graphic novel form to flex its muscle to stunning effect. The book's clear-eyed reflection on global politics, its touching portrait of a young man struggling to mature and its arresting visual narrative come together to create a story greater than the sum of its parts—a story that is, ultimately, a sweeping declaration of human strength, compassion and creative power."—Sasha Watson, Los Angeles Times "Melding a graphic novel, photo essay, and travelogue, The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders tells the story of photographer Didier Lefèvre's 1986 journey through Afghanistan with the international non-profit organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Lefèvre documented the group's harrowing covert tour from Pakistan into a nation gripped by violence in the aftermath of the 1979 Soviet invasion. While a few of his 4,000-plus images were published upon his return to France, years passed before Lefèvre was approached by his friend, graphic novelist Emmanuel Guibert, about collaborating on a book that would finally tell his remarkable story. The resulting effort, assembled by graphic designer Frédéric Lemercier, is a seamless tour de force of reportage."—Kristin Butler, The Atlantic “The Photographer is a work of stunning originality and power. It seamlessly blends personal storytelling, photography, and illustration to reveal the essential work of Doctors Without Borders. It is to Didier Lefevre’s immense credit that he risked his life to bring that story to light. This amazing work gives us a window into the suffering and perseverance of the Afghan people. Above all else, it is a truly inspiring piece of work.”—Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm"Reading The Photographer is a simply stunning experience: you emerge from your time spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan with Didier and the members of MSF a better, more thoughtful person."—Nancy Pearl, NPR“An absorbing graphic memoir . . . Lefevre’s work is stunning, capturing not just the beauty of the terrain, but the stories etched onto the faces of the Afghan people.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Emmanuel Guibert has written a great many graphic novels for readers young and old, from the raucous and silly Sardine in Outer Space series to the sweeping World War II biographical epic, Alan's War. Guibert lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.Didier Lefèvre was a French photojournalist who traveled the world extensively, often reporting from the most remote and harrowing situations imaginable.