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To Boston From Kabul With Love

Courtesy Beth Murphy / Principle Pictuers

A chicken vendor in Kabul, Afghanistan expresses sympathy for Bostonians after the marathon attack.

KABUL – After more than three decades of war, you would think Afghans would be desensitized to violent attacks like the Boston Marathon explosion. A Boston-based documentary filmmaker found just the opposite.

Instead of disregard, she found empathy among Kabul's residents for the three killed and more than 170 injured in the twin bomb blasts at the center of Boston 6,500 miles away. And she has the images to prove it. 

In the wake of the attacks, Beth Murphy awakened Tuesday morning in Afghanistan to a confounding text message from her husband.

"I thought at first I was re-reading my own message to him saying, 'Yes, I'm OK'," said Beth Murphy. She was referring to a text message she had sent her husband about a large-scale Taliban attack in western Afghanistan on April 3 that left more than 40 people dead.

"But it said, 'It's OK, we're safe.' So I did a double-take.

Courtesy Beth Murphy / Principle Pictures

A man with a donkey carriage in Kabul, Afghanistan relates to the victims of violence in Boston.

"I immediately went online before I even got back to him and saw what was happening in Boston, and [got] that overwhelming feeling of helplessness and sadness and feeling so far away. I thought, 'I'd really like to be home right now.'"

Murphy's husband, Dennis, and 5-year-old daughter were fine. But as a runner who had felt the joy and pain of crossing the finish line of the Boston Marathon, she felt compelled to do something.

In an effort to show solidarity with the city she calls home, Murphy set off for her day's work on a documentary project in Kabul armed with a simple sign she made that read: "To Boston From Kabul With Love."

Courtesy Beth Murphy / Principle Pictures

A bookseller in Kabul, Afghanistan expresses sympathy for Bostonians after the violent marathon attack.

Her initial plan was to photograph herself holding the sign and post it online but reactions from Afghans to the unfolding tragedy in Boston prompted a change of plans.

"As I started to talk with people here about what was happening, I saw the expressions on their faces change," she said. "They experience things like this here all the time. You might expect that they'd be desensitized to it or talk about it with a lack of compassion, but it was the exact opposite. There was this shared experience of pain and suffering, and the way people expressed that to me was really beautiful."

Those expressions led Murphy to ask permission to photograph them holding her sign – a spontaneous idea that quickly spread around the world and went viral on the Internet.

Beth Murphy, a Boston filmmaker currently in Kabul Afghanistan, was so moved by the marathon violence she wanted to send some love to her home city from 6,500 miles away. She explains the "incredible connection" and "shared experience of pain and suffering" Afghans expressed for Bostonians.

Murphy published a series of black and white photos rich with the color of everyday life here: a bookseller crouched before his wares, a chicken vendor with a trio of whole fryer birds hanging over his shoulder, a little girl's largely expressionless face starkly contrasted by those of her shrouded female relatives in the distance.

Courtesy Beth Murphy / Principle Pictures

Beth Murphy, a Boston-based documentary film maker set out on the streets of Kabul after the Boston Marathon attacks with a simple sign that read: "To Boston From Kabul With Love." She was overwhelmed with the expressions of sympathy by Afghans for Bostonians.

And the common thread binding the images and the people in them is a collective nod of empathy for the people of Boston.

"I've been really overwhelmed by the response," Murphy said. "It certainly wasn't anything that I anticipated. I'm happy that the pictures resonated because I think they speak to a common humanity that we all share."

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