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Oscar-nominated James Longley created LOOKING INTO KABUL to provide a view of Afghanistan that is both epic in scope and intimate in detail. Focusing on everyday life in Kabul’s old city, the exhibition combines vast panoramic images with portraits and documentary films to create a breathtaking look into an unseen world of winding streets, childhood games, shop keepers, madrasas and markets – all steeped in the atmosphere and culture of this ancient and troubled city. On view in the Nichols and North Galleries now through September 12, 2022.


(excerpts from www.

Documentary filmmaker and photographer James Longley has spent the past two decades conveying the stark realities and manifold inner worlds of civilians caught up in war zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza. Through his production entity Daylight Factory LLC, James works on ways to make the world kinder and more self-aware.

Photographer and filmmaker James Longley

Fascinated by filmmaking and photography since early childhood, Longley’s international experience began in the Soviet Union and later Russia, where he studied at the Moscow film school. His student documentary film in Moscow, co-directed with Robin Hessman, took home a Student Academy Awardin 1994. James lived and worked in Russia during most of the turbulent 1990s.

Longley produced his first feature-length documentary in the Gaza Strip during the second Palestinian uprising. The eponymous film, GAZA STRIP, released in 2002, enjoyed a broad festival run and critical success. The producer’s royalties from the DVD sales of this film allowed James to take on his second feature project in Iraq.

James filmed for two years in Iraq after the 2003 US invasion. The resulting feature documentary, IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, was widely heralded for its innovative and risk-taking approach, combining an expressionist aesthetic with intimate observational filmmaking that appears to erase the presence of the camera in order to create the sensation of unmediated, subjective experience.

At its premiere IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS took the Sundance Film Festival by storm, becoming the first and only documentary in Sundance history to be awarded all three of the documentary film craft awards for Cinematography, Editing, and Directing. The film received many accolades, including the Nestor Almendros award from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and an Emmy™ nomination for Best Cinematography. The film is included on many “critics’ picks” lists of documentary films, and in 2012 IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS was named by the Sundance Documentary Program as one of the 10 best documentary films of the past decade.

A scene from the documentary film "Iraq in Fragments"

Writing in the New York Times, film critic A.O. Scott said of the film:

“IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS is the latest entry in the crowded field of documentaries from that war. It is also one of the best, partly because it is more concerned with exploring daily life and individual destinies than with articulating a position. ... Whether you think the war is right or wrong, IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS is a necessary reminder of just how painful and complicated it is."

In the Village Voice, critic Rob Nelson called it “a one-man production of startling audacity and aesthetic provocation.” He continued, “if Longley's astonishing feat of poetic agitation has a precedent in the entire history of documentary, I'm not aware of it."

Along with SARI’S MOTHER, his short film set on a farm south of Baghdad, Longley’s IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS was honored with an Academy Award™ nomination for best documentary.

Longley was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2007, named a MacArthur Fellow in 2009, and a United States Artists Ford Fellow in 2011. These awards from United States Artists and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation made possible Longley’s documentary film and photographic explorations of Afghanistan.

Following up on IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS, Longley produced and filmed the feature documentary ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT in Afghanistan. The film, following life in a school over three years, makes Afghan reality accessible by giving the audience a human-scale entry point - the world of a neighborhood school in Kabul - through which the larger context of Afghan society and history may be more clearly understood.

Reviewing ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT in the Los Angeles Times in 2019, film critic Kenneth Turan wrote:

“What is life like on the ground for ordinary people in another culture, another world? That’s been the bread and butter of observational documentaries for forever, but almost never is it done with the kind of beauty and grace filmmaker James Longley brings to his Afghanistan-set ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT.

As his 2006 Oscar-nominated IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS demonstrated, MacArthur Fellow Longley, who serves as his own cinematographer as well as directs, has an almost magical ability to envelope us in other realities.

He does it via the poetry of his imagery as well as a gift for focused illumination that creates empathetic portraits of people who are both ordinary and intensely involving.”

After a festival run starting at Telluride, TIFF and the New York Film Festival, ANGELS ARE MADE OF LIGHT opened theatrically at Film Forum and was the New York Times’ Critic’s Pick.

James has given talks and taught filmmaking classes at Hong Kong University, Duke University Center For The Arts, The Goethe Institute in Kigali, and in Zurich for FOCAL.

James has produced and lensed humanitarian film projects for UNICEF and Save The Children, among others, and has contributed to several group documentary projects, such as the PBS documentary SACRED, directed by Academy Award™ winner Thomas Lennon.

35mm prints of Longley's filmed work can be found at MoMA, The Academy Film Archive, the Duke University Archive, Wesleyan University, Northwest Film Forum and the Library of Congress. Duke University’s Power Plant Gallery hosted a solo exhibition of Longley’s Afghanistan photography in 2015.

In 2006 Longley was given a Genius Award by The Seattle Stranger newspaper, and in 2020 he was honored with a Local Hero Award by his home town festival, the Friday Harbor Film Festival. James Longley is based in Seattle.


Longley's LOOKING INTO KABUL is on view now through September 12 in the Nichols and North Galleries.

Learn more and plan your visit at

Exhibition is sponsored by:

The Honeywell Charitable Fund, RaVae Luckhart and Jack Rice, Donald and Kathleen Peek, Town of Friday Harbor, San Juan County, Anonymous, Harbor Rental, Printonyx, Browne’s Home Center and Jason Suhl.

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