Home > Graphic Novels, review > ‘The Photographer’: a graphic novel review

‘The Photographer’: a graphic novel review

The Photographer is a graphic narrative that tells the story of French photographer Didier Lefevre time spent in Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders in 1986. It’s a unique work for not only containing illustrations about the experience, but that the photos from Lefevre are coupled with Emmauel Guibert’s art side by side. Lefevre’s story is unique enough, but the combination of photography and sequential art make this work especially unique in the world of alternative comics.


The narrative is based on the notes and journals Lefevre wrote during his trip, a lot of which was lost since then. The translator (the work was originally in French) includes an introduction that gives the reader a quick ‘Afghanistan Modern History 101,’ which helps a lot when reading this. Lefevre’s innocence towards the subject matter is very much the same as the reader’s own understanding. It makes it very ease for the reader to understand Lefevre or the difference to the culture. But there is a lot that Lefevre left out (otherwise this would be an even larger volume than it is), so a lot reflects Lefevre’s own feelings. In terms of a memoir, this is a good story. It plays out well. It’s more about Lefevre than Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan. Regardless, it’s still a very well written and an interesting narrative.

This also works as one of the best depictions of the Arab world that I’ve read/seen. There is a great sense of moral ambiguity in the work. There’s a strong sense of the appreciation of humanity on the part of the doctors, which one can juxtapose Lefevre against. The narrative does a good job at giving attention to Afghan people, who I really wanted to see in this work.


Of course the highlight of this work is the presentation of the narrative. Emmanuel Guibert does a good job at drawing the narrative. Guibert does a good job at detailing the foreground, but his backgrounds are far more simplistic. This isn’t particularly bad, just emphasizes the personal part of the narrative, rather than the geographic part. I really like Frederic Lemercier’s color. They’re vibrant, not often changing with the tone of the narrative, but I feel like they work really well for the work.

Of course the attention really goes to Lefevre’s photos. They blur the distinction of the work as a graphic memoir, to one captured in captured memories of Lefevre’s experiences. I’m an amateur photographer and I can tell that Lefevre is skilled not only at shooting his works, but also developing them in the darkroom. Some of my favorite moments are the contact sheet collages, which work as an interesting form of storytelling with narration or dialogue. The larger prints add a lot of emotional weight as well and often stand out as the ‘better’ of Lefevre’s shots. But the transparency between Guibert and Lefevre’s art and photography create a totally new way of producing sequential works.

Final Opinion:

The Photographer is an amazing work. It’s ambitious not only in its interesting story, but its graphic presentation. This work, along Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (who did the Persian lettering in this work) and Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, helped foster my interest in the region. A sense of humanity exists in the Doctors Without Borders mission, as well as Lefevre’s photos. This isn’t a work for everybody, but if you like the premise of a mixed graphic media about a photographer in Afghanistan than read it. It’s an important work for both the mixture of mediums and the story it tells.

The Photographer is owned by Didier Lefevre and Emmanuel Guibert. It’s published by First Second.

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