nuristan, klaus ferdinand, edelberg, afghanistan, ethnography, anthropology, photography, dogs, collection

Capturing the moment: Into the unknown


This is one of my absolute favorites in the ethnographic photographic collections at Moesgaard Museum! Two men wandering in mountains. The scene has epic qualities. The two characters, the mountains half covered in mist. And the dog. Where did the dog come from? The two travelers are well known to me, but I never heard any mention of a dog. They must have encountered it in Kabul and brought it with them up in the mountains. Why, we will never know, I guess. Both men are dead today.

The photo was taken in the Hindukush Mountains in Afghanistan in the fall of 1953. Their destination was the Afghan province of Nuristan bordering on Pakistan. Here, the wanderer to the right, Lennart Edelberg, had started his work 5 and a half years earlier. He had – like a number of men of knowledge and influence – been drawn into the myths of the Kafirs of the Hindukush. What he encountered up there and back then, was much more than just myths and fairytales. He had encountered people. Women, men, and children with knowledge of no other myths than those told by the village elders.

Edelberg also found a second home there. A place to belong to, so to speak. So, he brought the wanderer to the left, Klaus Ferdinand there. To continue the work; to increase the understanding of the Nuristanis; to collect their material culture; to record the old (heathen) songs and hymns; to document their lives, their house construction, wood carvings; to understand their conception of time, nature, life, and death.

This photo – in a way – opens up a world to me. It is a point of entry to a world of adventure; a world of travel. The epic story of two men wandering deeper and deeper into the unknown; into the mountains, and perhaps into themselves? And it opens up a story about two pioneers of (Danish) anthropology, seeking understanding of people at the very end of the known world.

They spent several months in these mountains. It has all been well documented. I know a lot about the photo and their travel there, their motivations and their findings. But the dog….? The dog continues to be a mystery to me…

//Ulrik Høj Johnsen

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