The exhibit, titled Baharistan Journal: Images from Afghanistan 2003-2007, runs through November 5 at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. It shows how Afghans cope with adversity on a daily basis in Baharistan, a neighborhood in Kabul.
"Corruption and [a lack of security] are prevalent problems in Afghanistan that are definitely getting worse, but it does not prevent its people from being happy and genuinely hospitable," noted Trilling, commenting on his numerous visits to Afghanistan over the past four years.
Trilling's images examine Afghanistan from a street-level perspective, capturing the essence of daily existence. Most of the photos depict simple moments, including soccer-playing, praying and shopping at the neighborhood market. One image encapsulates the public displays on Ashura, a Sh'ia holy day during which the devout remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, grandson of the prophet Mohammad.
"In terms of actually photographing individuals, I have always found Afghans some of the friendliest people in the world. They are curious when they see a foreigner with a camera, and almost always eager to be photographed," Trilling said.
Despite a rising sense of pessimism over flagging reconstruction efforts, many Afghans retain a remarkable sense of dignity, Trilling found. "The presidential elections in the fall of 2004 were an exciting time, but for many people they just legitimized a sitting government without bringing any massive, expected changes," he said. "I think for many Afghans, the international promises of the immediate post-Taliban period when Afghans were expecting their country to be lifted up and rebuilt have yielded great disappointments."
Polling data supports the impression that Afghans now hold a bleaker view of the future than they did four years ago. The San Francisco-based Asia Foundation released a survey October 23 in which 42 percent of the over 6,000 respondents said Afghanistan was moving in the right direction. That figure was down from 44 percent in 2006, and 64 percent in 2004. Conversely, 24 percent in the 2007 survey said the country is moving in the wrong direction, up from 21 percent last year and 11 percent in 2004. Security issues, namely terrorism and political violence, were cited by 46 percent of those polled as the biggest problem confronting Afghanistan today.
More than 5,200 people have died in insurgency-related violence so far in 2007. Despite the growing security concerns, almost half of Afghans believe their families are more prosperous today than they were under the Taliban regime, according to the Asia Foundation survey.
"While most recognize some improvements, they often complain about growing corruption and the deaths of Afghans at the hands of foreign troops," Trilling observed.
Geyla Leshchinskiy is an editorial associate at EurasiaNet. David Trilling is a photojournalist working in the Caucasus and Central Asia.