I was inspired to create the Afghan Women's Project in 2002 after I met with a delegation 14 Afghan women who came to Austin Texas. The women I met were so different from the black and white, sad pictures of Afghan women in the media at that time--these women were multifaceted, diverse from each other and in many ways like you or me. As a professional photographer who has spent time in Asia and the Middle East, I saw that I could provide a more complete picture and understanding of their lives.
I visited Afghanistan in 2003 and again in 2010 to photograph and interview women. On the last day of the second trip, I knew the time had come to write a book in order to do justice to the stories and perspectives that the women had shared with me. They wanted me to show that their country was much more than just war and terrorism.
When I arrived in Afghanistan in 2010, quite up-to-date on the news out of there, I was feeling angry, hopeless and discouraged about the Afghan situation. That quickly dissipated once I was on the ground and as I interviewed more and more inspiring women from different walks of life. I found things that surprised me, and things that are important for Westerners to know.
After my 2003 trip, I'd traveled around the US giving illustrated talks, which I still do, but the reach of personal appearances is limited. In Gathering Strength, the voices of these women can be more widely heard.
I wanted to focus this book more on the diverse, sometimes opposing ideas of the women rather than the characters of each individual women. So, even though they were interviewed individually, I put them together in "conversations" so that all the artists, for example, could talk about what it's like to be an artist, or social activists could share differing perspectives of a demonstration they helped organize.
Creating this book was fun and challenging! The format is complex so I thought of everything I could to make it easier--chapter headings and thumbnails of each woman in that chapter on each two page spread, tabs along the side to make finding the glossaries, annotated bibliography, and notes easier, and bolded references to the women in the index.
Professional photographer, Peggy Kelsey traveled to Afghanistan in 2003 and 2010 to photograph and interview women. In Gathering Strength, these interviews come together under different topics creating conversations that illustrate the women's different stories, concerns and issues. Peggy's own story and comments serve as a bridge between the reader and Afghan women. Although the book addresses intractable issues and situations that the women face, it is ultimately hopeful.