Old Bridge, Kaubul River, Bala Hissar in distance.
Photographer: Burke, John
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph taken at Kabul in Afghanistan, showing a ruined bridge over the Kabul river with the Bala Hissar fortress in the background and soldiers in the foreground, by John Burke in 1879-80. It is part of a series of images forming the Afghan War albums which provided a visual document of the country and resulted in Burke achieving renown as the first significant photographer of Afghanistan and its people. The British became involved in Afghanistan, trying to create a buffer state and protect their Indian empire in the face of Russian expansion in Central Asia. The Anglo-Russian territorial rivalry created what came to be known as the Great Game between the powers. In 1878 Burke accompanied British forces into Afghanistan, despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. In his two-year expedition in Afghanistan during the Second Afghan War (1878-80), Burke became the photographer of the region where the strategies of the Great Game were played out.
Strategically located Kabul, the capital and largest city of Afghanistan, spreads along the Kabul river at an elevation of about 5,900 feet (1,800 m) in the east-central part of the country. The city lies in a triangular valley between the steep Asmai and Sherdarwaza mountains and commands the approaches to the Khyber Pass and into the Indian sub-continent. In a latter phase of the war, from October 1879 through the summer of 1880, British troops (the Kabul Field Force) under General Roberts occupied Kabul. Burke stayed here for too for many months, photographing the city and its inhabitants. The Kabul river rises in the eastern slopes of the Sanglakh mountain range near the Unai pass about 45 miles west of the city. Around the time this image was taken there were five bridges over the river at Kabul itself; fords were also used but were only practicable when the weather was cold and the river low.