A photography exhibit at Point Park University takes viewers back in time 40 years to places in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India before the rise of the Taliban or al-Qaida.
Alban and Virginia Curtze, an Erie couple who loved to travel and take pictures, captured these images in the 1970s, according to their daughter, Jean Carroll, also of Erie.
"I know they were in Kabul, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and they also saw the Taj Mahal," she said. They also traveled up to Mount Everest and had dinner with Miangul Jahanzeb, the former ruler of Swat, in the fall of 1972.
Their slides, which were sold in an estate sale in 1977, are the centerpiece of "Silk Road," an exhibition on display through Aug. 9 at Point Park's gallery, Downtown.
The Silk Road is a historical trade route that stretches 4,000 miles by land and sea from Europe, Asia and Africa up through China. Forty years ago, tourists could travel throughout these areas and were warmly welcomed. Some of the pictures show aspects of tribal culture that have remained for hundreds of years but disappeared or were marred by militancy, extremism and the war on terror.
One particularly poignant image shows the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a national treasure in Afghanistan that was destroyed by the Taliban before 9/11.
Christopher Rolinson, an associate professor of photography and photojournalism in Point Park's School of Communication, worked with his students to study more than 1,200 images to create the exhibition. He noted that the pictures of Afghanistan show what it looked like before the Russian invasion.
"We all understand the how and why we got into Afghanistan, but I never really looked at the history of it. So I've certainly got a greater appreciation of the region. For me, it's been an education," he said.
A picture of Khyber Pass, which is now a NATO supply route for American troops in Afghanistan through Pakistan, tells a story. It was peaceful then, and foreign tourists could pass through the area. Today, even Pakistanis passing through it fear being attacked by Taliban militants or becoming victims of a suicide bomb. Foreigners require special permission from the government to travel to this area.
Although the Khyber Pass was less dangerous in the 1970s, the Curtzes did get a scare there, Ms. Carroll said. While they were traveling, six men riding horses with beards, bandoliers and curved swords suddenly appeared. Their guide told the tourists to pack everything and get into the car. They escaped unharmed, she said. Most of the couple's interactions with locals were more pleasant, Ms. Carroll said.
For instance, taking pictures of women isn't allowed in the tribal cultures of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
However, Ms. Carroll said, "the people were very friendly, and my mother even took a picture of two women in burqa" [a veil covering women from head to toe].
Allie Wynands, a photojournalism student and the researcher who found the identity of the photographers, said, "Virginia's pictures hold an aesthetic value, Alban's a historic one. Alban took pictures of buildings, statues and monuments. She took pictures of people and portraits."
Inspired by the couple, Ms. Wynands hopes her future holds a similar path.
The historical statues of Buddha were carved into a cliff at a height of more than 8,000 feet in A.D. 507. They were destroyed by Taliban government in March 2001 amid international condemnation.
"It is a shame that a lot of beautiful religious places were destroyed and it is gone forever," Ms. Carroll said. "It is a terrible tragedy. But I am happy that these historical pictures of Buddha statues exist."
Waqas Banoori: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-694-4978.