Brothers in arms

Thankfully, the significance of the term ‘love that dare not speak its name’ has been somewhat watered down since its 19th century inception.

However, elsewhere in the world, homosexuality remains a ‘crime’ punishable by death.

A Chai Boy on duty c Bran Symondson
A chai boy on duty (c) Bran Symondson

It’s perhaps this fact that makes Bran Symondson’s brave, intimate and stunning collection of photographs from Afghanistan all the more incredible.

Symondson’s show, The Best View of Heaven is from Hell, is the product of the ex-soldier’s return to conflict-torn Afghanistan, creating a photographic study of Afghan National Police.

ANP Rose c Bran Symondson
ANP Rose (c) Bran Symondson

The idea for the photographs arose when Symondson was on tour with the British Army in Afghanistan, and became fascinated by the lives of the policemen.

His arrestingly vivid, bold photographs present a compelling narrative of the hidden side of the ANP, presenting a world where women are hidden away and men turn to one another for intimacy.

Chai Boy C Bran Symondson
Chai boy (c) Bran Symondson

His reportage offers a starkly intimate portrait of the secret lives of these men. The images include a portrait of the ‘chai boy’, who plays a courtesan-like role within the group – he is looked after and educated by the other men in return for sexual favours, and uses his physicality to manipulate his elders.

The bold pink flowers jar against the men’s expression and the war-torn background, creating a truly astonishing series of images.

The Best View of Heaven is from Hell (c) Bran Symondson
The Best View of Heaven is from Hell (c) Bran Symondson

The Best View of Heaven is from Hell runs from 28 January – 20 February at the Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance Street, Shoreditch, London E2.

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