Time operates curiously in Afghanistan’s remote and inhospitable Wakhan Corridor. Tucked away in the country’s northeastern corner, the region’s 12,000 residents live very much the same as their ancestors did centuries ago.
While the pace of change is slow, life is short, and death is fast. The average life expectancy is thought to be less than 43 years, and the infant mortality rate is estimated to be at more than one-third. The harsh conditions make many of its inhabitants, both Wakhis and Kyrgyzs, look much older than they are.
Yet its remoteness is not without benefit. Because of the difficulty in reaching this 140-mile long strip of land bordering China, Tajikistan and Pakistan, the Taliban, and therefore the American military, have never ventured there.
There is no war.
When the French photographers and adventurers Fabrice Nadjari and Cedric Houin arrived in the first village, they found that even photographs, which freeze time, worked differently. The portraits they took with Polaroid cameras developed oddly, and degraded rapidly, because of the high altitude and harsh conditions. But this made them no less valuable to their subjects, many of whom had never seen a photograph. Some had never seen an outsider.
The local Afghans marveled at the fragile images and lined up to have their photos taken.
“There was something extremely precious in the way they were holding the image, in the way they wanted to get it as soon as it got out of the camera,” Mr. Nadjari said. “It was both the gift and the interaction.”