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Coral Gables

Local photographer’s images show Afghanistan in happier times

Years of occupation and civil war have turned Afghanistan into a place synonymous with chaos and danger, but Coral Gables resident Joseph Hoyt is set on showing a different side of the country.

Hoyt is hosting his exhibit Afghanistan 1970-1975 Images from an Era of Peace at the Coral Gables Museum through June 22.

Hoyt’s pictures were taken over five years in the 1970’s, while he traveled in and out of Afghanistan, taking pictures, exploring and purchasing textiles and other Afghan goods.

Though the photos have received praise and acceptance to world-renowned venues such as the San Francisco Public Library and Coventry Cathedral in England, Hoyt stresses that his photos are a product not of a profession, but rather of a hobby.

“I’m not a photographer, I like taking pictures, but by no means am I a photographer,” said Hoyt. “I was just a hippie with a camera.”

Hoyt was in his early 20’s at the time the photos were taken and ended up in Afghanistan after traveling through Europe and Turkey—along the famous “hippie trail.” He entered from Pakistan and eventually found his way into the country that he had heard so much about.

“It was as remote a place as any, and so exotic. But it was also an extraordinary country, physically, geographically—massive mountains, great food and great people.”

According to Hoyt, the pictures divulge the people of Afghanistan to their truest form at a time when there was peace.

“To look at a point in time when they were neither occupied by foreign forces or in the midst of civil war—there’s a benefit to that,” said Hoyt. “It’s been almost two generations of war, there are Afghans who’ve experienced nothing but that — war.”

However, it’s not just the photos, but also the man behind the camera that make them come to life, according to Sara Zajic, a staff member at the Fairchild Tropical Garden — where Hoyt volunteers.

“Joe physically gets down to the level of the kids at the garden when he volunteers to listen and understand them, and that’s prevalent in his photos. He fully immerses himself,” said Zajic.

Hoyt hadn’t done anything with the photos since 1975, expect share them with friends and family. But it was 9/11 and the onset of the war in Afghanistan that prompted him to show a counter to what the media was portraying of the country.

“The Afghans are so misunderstood,” said Hoyt. “There are images of war and violence. My intention is to continue to demonstrate that there’s relevance to learning more about Afghanistan and its people.”

Hoyt also mentioned that the exhibit in it the logistics phase of being taken to Afghanistan.

“I saw Afghans in their 70’s in tears when I took it to San Francisco; I can’t imagine the effect it could have back in Afghanistan.”

The exhibit displays not just the photos but also traditional Afghan garb Hoyt brought back with him, textiles and memorabilia such as one of the cameras he used and his old English/Afghan-Dari dictionary.

“They tell a story, one that shows what Afghanistan looked like through the eyes of a young foreigner,” said Hoyt.

Hoyt will give a talk at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 13, at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave. Admission is free.

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