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Dodging The Taliban, Dreaming Of The Sea

Andrew Quilty stepped into an entirely new world when he left his native Australia three years ago. The 34-year-old photojournalist says he's gone from taking assignments that merely paid the bills to feeling passionate about everything he points his camera at.

Quilty spoke to RFE/RL from his home in Kabul about how he stays safe traveling the lawless regions of Afghanistan, and why he won't be returning to Australia anytime soon. (WARNING: Some graphic images.)

Father and son prepare a field for planting in the village of Salhad Breuhil, in Afghanistan's remote Wakhan Corridor. 
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Father and son prepare a field for planting in the village of Salhad Breuhil, in Afghanistan's remote Wakhan Corridor. 

A roadside moment during a trip into Afghanistan’s Takhar Province. As a freelancer, Quilty is able to move more freely than many staff journalists but he lacks their security framework. The Australian says working quickly is often the best way to stay safe. "The general rule of thumb is don't stay in one place for more than half an hour."
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A roadside moment during a trip into Afghanistan’s Takhar Province. As a freelancer, Quilty is able to move more freely than many staff journalists but he lacks their security framework. The Australian says working quickly is often the best way to stay safe. "The general rule of thumb is don't stay in one place for more than half an hour."

A "ferryman" in northeast Afghanistan who charges locals the equivalent of $0.40 to be paddled across the Kokcha River. Quilty says he has become attuned to the subtle differences in dress between the regions and prepares accordingly. "My collection of Afghan clothes is far larger than any other wardrobe I've owned."
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A "ferryman" in northeast Afghanistan who charges locals the equivalent of $0.40 to be paddled across the Kokcha River. Quilty says he has become attuned to the subtle differences in dress between the regions and prepares accordingly. "My collection of Afghan clothes is far larger than any other wardrobe I've owned."

A fighting dog with his trainer in Kabul. Quilty says he prefers the softer light of Afghanistan to the hard Australian sun. But the weighty subjects he now photographs are a long way from the news he covered for Australian media.
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A fighting dog with his trainer in Kabul. Quilty says he prefers the softer light of Afghanistan to the hard Australian sun. But the weighty subjects he now photographs are a long way from the news he covered for Australian media.

In Kunduz, in the days after a Doctors Without Borders hospital was hit by a U.S. air strike, the young Australian managed to gain access to the destroyed facility. Alone, with dusk falling and Taliban fighters roaming the streets outside, Andrew found the body of Baynazar Mohammad Nazar lying on the operating table. "It was shocking. This is the one place where you're at your most vulnerable." Quilty later located the family of the dead man and set up a fund that raised $12,000 for their support.
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In Kunduz, in the days after a Doctors Without Borders hospital was hit by a U.S. air strike, the young Australian managed to gain access to the destroyed facility. Alone, with dusk falling and Taliban fighters roaming the streets outside, Andrew found the body of Baynazar Mohammad Nazar lying on the operating table. "It was shocking. This is the one place where you're at your most vulnerable." Quilty later located the family of the dead man and set up a fund that raised $12,000 for their support.

A young girl in a hospital waiting room in the aftermath of the Kunduz hospital attack. Quilty says of his experiences in Afghanistan: "I think it makes me a better person, with a greater perspective on the world.... It might not necessarily make me a 'happier' person, but maybe that isn't the be-all and end-all."
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A young girl in a hospital waiting room in the aftermath of the Kunduz hospital attack. Quilty says of his experiences in Afghanistan: "I think it makes me a better person, with a greater perspective on the world.... It might not necessarily make me a 'happier' person, but maybe that isn't the be-all and end-all."

A baby girl wrapped in foil after suffering burns from an oil heater. Despite the shocking appearance of the infant, Quilty later received news that the girl's injuries were not as bad as first thought and that she would likely make "a good recovery."
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A baby girl wrapped in foil after suffering burns from an oil heater. Despite the shocking appearance of the infant, Quilty later received news that the girl's injuries were not as bad as first thought and that she would likely make "a good recovery."

Villagers at the site of a landslide that buried at least 350 villagers in Afghanistan's Badakhshan region.  
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Villagers at the site of a landslide that buried at least 350 villagers in Afghanistan's Badakhshan region.
 

Asked what he misses most about Australia, there’s no hesitation on the phone line: "The ocean." Archival images such as this one, from his former life in Australia, show a deep appreciation for the Sydney coastline.
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Asked what he misses most about Australia, there’s no hesitation on the phone line: "The ocean." Archival images such as this one, from his former life in Australia, show a deep appreciation for the Sydney coastline.

Quilty's oceanic background also emerges when he talks about the risks in his (landlocked) new home. "It's not like the Taliban has a uniform that you can watch out for. There's a saying in surfing that for every shark you see, seven or eight have seen you. It's pretty similar here, I think."
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Quilty's oceanic background also emerges when he talks about the risks in his (landlocked) new home. "It's not like the Taliban has a uniform that you can watch out for. There's a saying in surfing that for every shark you see, seven or eight have seen you. It's pretty similar here, I think."

Snowfall at Nader Khan tomb, in Kabul. Quilty says his life in the Afghan capital is "a more normal domestic life than most people would imagine." But there's also more to it than meets the eye. "You can live a normal life, but there's this sort of edge that's always lurking in the background."
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Snowfall at Nader Khan tomb, in Kabul. Quilty says his life in the Afghan capital is "a more normal domestic life than most people would imagine." But there's also more to it than meets the eye. "You can live a normal life, but there's this sort of edge that's always lurking in the background."

A newspaper printer snacks on a slice of watermelon on a summer night in Kabul.
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A newspaper printer snacks on a slice of watermelon on a summer night in Kabul.

Crowds are one of the main concerns for foreigners in Afghanistan, and Quilty tries to make sure he is never surrounded. It doesn't always work out, though: Moments after this image was taken, his smartphone was stolen from his pocket in a "textbook mob situation." When Quilty gave chase, the thieves eventually dropped the phone and he was able to post this image of a Kabul sports field to Instagram.
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Crowds are one of the main concerns for foreigners in Afghanistan, and Quilty tries to make sure he is never surrounded. It doesn't always work out, though: Moments after this image was taken, his smartphone was stolen from his pocket in a "textbook mob situation." When Quilty gave chase, the thieves eventually dropped the phone and he was able to post this image of a Kabul sports field to Instagram.

History has trodden heavily through Afghanistan. In this image of a typically vigorous game of buzkashi, the participants wear what appear to be Soviet tank-crew helmets from the U.S.S.R.'s decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.
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History has trodden heavily through Afghanistan. In this image of a typically vigorous game of buzkashi, the participants wear what appear to be Soviet tank-crew helmets from the U.S.S.R.'s decade-long invasion of Afghanistan.

Quilty on a shoot, dressed in local clothing. The 34-year-old says he has no plans to leave Afghanistan anytime soon. "Anywhere you point a camera here, there's a compelling story. In Australia, I thought I had the best job, but Afghanistan has been a revelation. I'll get back to Australia eventually. But for the moment, I couldn't be more fulfilled."
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Quilty on a shoot, dressed in local clothing. The 34-year-old says he has no plans to leave Afghanistan anytime soon. "Anywhere you point a camera here, there's a compelling story. In Australia, I thought I had the best job, but Afghanistan has been a revelation. I'll get back to Australia eventually. But for the moment, I couldn't be more fulfilled."

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