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Photo of the Month - exploring the Story behind the Image...

Two Tajik girls at the Fortress of Zong

Two Tajik girls at the Fortress of Zong

Year: 2013, Month: October

Tajikistan > Wakhan Valley > Ishkashim

This is one of my favourite travel photographs. It has all the facets that go to build an image with a high visual impact: easily-identifiable and attractive subjects, good lighting, bold colours, and an interesting background that allows the eye to travel around the scene before coming back to rest on the point of focus. As often happens, the chance of its capture was quite serendipitous and unexpected. I was trekking through the Wakhan Valley of Tajikistan, adjacent to Afghanistan, and had taken the opportunity to climb to the fabled Fortress of Zong, between the villages of Vrang and Langar. It was a beautiful day, ideal for admiring the huge mountains of the Hindu Kush, over the river border into Afghanistan. As I climbed the steep hillside, carpeted with its delicate yellow aspen bushes, I noticed, walking towards me, two young women heading in the opposite direction. One was dressed in a red cardigan, and as we all know, red is a very useful color for the photographer who likes to use its strong visual attachment to add a point of impact in any image. 'If you don't ask, you won't get' is a common saying of the English county of Yorkshire where I was born, and as a travel photographer I know that its always worth asking for a photo even if the likelihood of a positive answer might be small. In this case, permission was granted and the girls were happy to be positioned in the best attitude for the scene. The shot was taken, and the girls carried on their way, leaving me to continue my climb to the Fortress, a small piece of which can just be seen in the image, to the left of the girl in red's shoulder, on the mid-ground escarpment.

So what is the subject of this photograph? Is it the girls themselves, or is it the background? A good photograph should always leave the viewer in no doubt as to what the subject and hence the idea of the image is, yet in this case the image breaks this rule, and provides as much to interest the viewer in the background as it does in the foreground, with great effect. The viewers eye might rest easily on the primary point of focus: the eyes of the girl in red, but it does not take long before the equal attractions of the eyes of the girl in blue, and thence the colorful and startling background take over to wrench the eye away again to move around the rest of the image.

Incidentally, you might be wondering about the scale of this photograph, and how big the mountains of distant Afghanistan really are. A clue is provided in the centre of the scene: find the girl in blue's left shoulder, then notice two horizontal strips of a dark green color that run along the base of the grey mountains. Incredibly, these dark green strips are actually two forests of full sized trees. Every tree much be, at my estimation, some 50 or 60 feet high, which in metric measurements equals some 20 metres tall. I will leave you to guess for yourself, then, the final height of the towering white peaks above them!

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