I’m thinking about Paula Lerner. This woman who worked tirelessly and fearlessly in Afghanistan to tell the story of women in that desperate, war-torn country. This woman who left an archive of powerful images so we can see and remember what she saw and experienced.
I had never heard of Paula Lerner until a couple of years ago, when Rangina Hamidi and Mary Littrell approached me about publishing a book on the embroiderers of Kandahar Treasure. I was intrigued, but the possibility of such a book didn’t come alive until I saw the images. Anonymous women lost in their burqas in the markets; hijab-covered women advocating for peace in Kabul; women tending their cattle, baking the family bread.
Celebration of Sisterhood, Celebration of Life
One photograph that stays with me (though it doesn’t appear in the book) shows a dim mud-walled roomful of women singing and drumming together in the soft light. This seemed to be the epitome of freedom within boundaries, this very private celebration of sisterhood.
Paula died of breast cancer in 2012, only 52 years old. Toward the end, she turned her camera and her tender discerning eye on the women in pink, women marching for a cure she would never know. There’s no self-pity in the images though, only a hopeful celebration of life.
We’ve just published Rangina and Mary’s book about the embroiderers of Kandahar Treasure with the moving and intimate photography of Paula Lerner. We are grateful to Aurora Photos who manages the image rights for Paula’s photography as well as the Harvard archives and Paula’s husband Thomas Dunlap for their kindness and generosity in publication of this book.
Embroidering within Boundaries is available for purchase now at ClothRoads and for pre-order at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and at your favorite bookstore.