Over the past 35 years, Tony O’Brien has gone from self-taught photojournalist working for small newspapers, to covering the first Gulf War for LIFE magazine. He has worked in Europe, the Middle East, Mexico, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, where he spent six frightening weeks in prison for entering the country illegally. Oddly enough, it is Afghanistan that has made the greatest impression on him.
“When you’re doing photojournalism, you toddle all over the world,” he explains. “But for each person, there’s a region that particularly touches them. For me it’s Afghanistan. Our country’s role in it, the history of Afghanistan—a country that’s been abused, and had others try to conquer it again and again over the centuries. I think it all goes back to the people. I’ve realized what a people could endure, and would endure, to get their country back. They are a very tough, remarkable people, yet they have a certain sensitivity.” O’Brien was imprisoned in 1989, and only was freed in six weeks after the American and Soviet governments, and others, put pressure on the Afghan government to release him. Nonetheless, after covering the first Gulf War, he returned to Afghanistan in 1992 to photograph in Kabul after it was captured by the mujahideen.
“This is what one is supposed to do as a photojournalist,” he says. “Plus I got taken with that particular war. I wanted to bring a little truth of the situation to the world, make people a little more aware of what was actually happening on the ground.”