We Are Here, Because You Were There — Impressions Gallery

We Are Here, Because You Were There

Andy Barnham and Sara de Jong document the experiences of Afghan interpreters resettled to the UK.

We Are Here, Because You Were There: Afghan Interpreters in the UK is a collaborative project by photographer Andy Barnham and researcher Sara de Jong, which documents the experiences of Afghan interpreters who were employed by the British Army in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2021, and resettled to the UK in 2021. This exhibition tells the interpreters’ experiences of employment and resettlement through portraiture and quotes, and photographs from Afghanistan.

We Are Here, Because You Were There centres Afghan interpreters’ own stories and invites viewers to engage with the individuals, their families and the human stories behind the headlines. These stories and images are Barnham and de Jong’s attempt to bring to life the structural and lasting impact of Britain’s foreign policy, military practices, and immigration policies. Starting with the British Empire’s colonial intervention in Afghanistan, the exhibition also shows a timeline of Anglo-Afghan relations, which reflects on the historical and present entanglements between the two countries.

Each portrait in the exhibition is a composite of up to a dozen frames overlaid to present a final portrait, to represent the subject’s changing states of mind. Using strategies of blurring and pixelating, photographer and British Army veteran Andy Barnham has further edited portraits of Afghan interpreters to help anonymise them, as they are still considered at risk and have family in Afghanistan under threat.

The quotes are extracts from in-depth interviews with the Afghan interpreters conducted by Sara de Jong. The testimonies cover the interpreters’ motivations for working with the British Armed Forces, their experiences on the frontline of war, and the threats they faced in Afghanistan. The statements also address their evacuation, their early experiences in the UK, and hopes for the future for themselves and their families.

While the images and quotes represent the individual stories of Afghan interpreters who took part in the portrait and interview sessions, they speak to the collective experiences of the larger community of Afghan former interpreters in the UK.

The exhibition also premieres five portraits of key veteran activists who continue to be political advocates for the protection and rights of their former colleagues. 

There are additional photographs of NATO soldiers in Afghanistan taken by Andy Barnham when he served as a Farsi military interpreter in 2006, and as a mentor to the Afghan National Army supported by a local Afghan interpreter in 2008. They offer a diaristic insider perspective on military operations deployed by NATO forces in Afghanistan, and their inclusion completes the title We Are Here, Because You Were There, indicating the reason why the Afghan refugees are here in the first place.

We Are Here Because You Were There has been co-produced by Andy Barnham and Sara de Jong with the support of Ffotogallery, the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of York and Sulha Alliance.

 

Images from left: 010 We Are Here, 012 We Are Here, and 008 We Are Here, 2022 © Andy Barnham

We Are Here, Because You Were There — Impressions Gallery
'002 We Are Here' and '002 Schoolboys' © Andy Barnham and Sara de Jong
We Are Here, Because You Were There — Impressions Gallery
'010 We Are Here' and '010 In My Own Lifetime' © Andy Barnham and Sara de Jong

Artists

  • We Are Here, Because You Were There — Impressions Gallery

    Andy Barnham

    Photographer

    Andy Barnham is a portrait photographer and a British Army veteran. Born in Hong Kong he is both a child of the end of the British Empire and he is also the son of a refugee; his mother and her family fled Vietnam in the closing days of the Vietnam War finding sanctuary in the USA. ‘We Are Here, Because You Were There’ is an multi award winning project achieving recognition in Prix de la Photographie, Paris, the Monochrome Awards, the Neutral Density Awards, the Tokyo International Foto Award and was nominated for the Human Cycle of the Prix Pictet.

  • We Are Here, Because You Were There — Impressions Gallery

    Sara De Jong

    Researcher

    Professor Sara de Jong (University of York) has researched the claims to protection and rights by Afghan interpreters and their advocates in countries involved in the Afghanistan war (2001-2021) for the past six years. Her research traces continuities between colonial and neo-imperial ab/uses of local brokers, such as interpreters, who are often indispensable but treated as expendable. It centres Afghan voices, interrogates and informs resettlement policies and connects advocates internationally. Together with three Afghanistan veterans, she co-founded the Sulha Alliance, which advocates for Afghan interpreters and other locally employed civilians employed by the British Army.

Funders and partners