Towards an insider perspective. Exhibitions, Workshops, and Network.
Towards an insider perspective. Exhibitions, Workshops, and Network.
The photography exhibition Afghan Tales presents a new perspective on the complexities of contemporary Afghanistan, introducing a strong selection of some of the best contemporary Afghan photography. Afghan Tales is comprised of one of the largest archives on contemporary Afghan photography, representing the work of more than 20 male and female Afghan photographers working within press photography, documentary, and art photography.
Afghan photography has been undergoing an exciting revitalization during the latest years following the lift of the total ban on photography that was imposed during the Taliban rule. Seeing Afghanistan through the eyes of Afghan photographers enables a rarely achieved intimate presence in moments, processes, and conflicts in both public and private spheres, bringing sensitivity to the significance of everyday life and the conditions formative to their strategies and events.
The confidentiality Afghan photographers behold with their own cultures and social codes, provides them with a privileged position that enables access to otherwise closed circles. Furthermore, their long-term observations and involvement entail a different sensibility towards the less spectacular stories that, although difficultly sold to international newsrooms and editorials, can still be hugely formative to Afghan life. Operating as a photographer in Afghanistan is far from risk-free and several of the photographers in the Afghan Tales exhibition have first-hand experienced the unsafe terrain of photographic practice, receiving death threats, being put under arrest, kidnapped, and even forced into exile.
The Afghan Tales exhibition has a truly kaleidoscopic character, embracing contradictory stances as readily as the power of the autonomous narrative of a single image or a conceptually conceived series. Approaching contemporary Afghan photography entails engagement with a multitude of artistic expressions as well as a multitude of personal stories and attitudes towards what Afghan photography is and should be. It is from this copious position that Afghan Tales invites its audience along to an intimate and surprising meeting with a different and more diverse kind of Afghanistan that is normally shown.
The photographers contributing to Afghan Tales represent a broad take on contemporary Afghan photography, exploring a variety of themes through different genres and styles. Each of the photographers have their own individual approach and technique to capture what they believe are important aspects to contemporary life in Afghanistan.
Rada Akbar . Roqia Alavi . Hanifa Alizada . Barat Ali Batoor . Mumtaz Khan Chopan . Sulaiman Edrissy . Gulbuddin Elham . Zekria Gulistani . Jawid Hanan . Amina Hassani . Jawad Hamdard . Kia Hadi Morawej . Najibullah Musafer . Sadeq Naseri . Fraidoon Poya . Mohammad Reza . Sahel Basir Seerat . Reza Sepehri . Nasim Seyamak . Abdullah Shayagan . Fardin Waezi . Mohammed Ibrahim Wahid . Mohammad Dawood Wassl
The exhibition Afghan Tales has its roots in a project established in 2011 aimed at professionalising and supporting a revitalisation of Afghan photography. Upon the initiative of the Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Danish Embassy in Kabul, Commerce & Culture was invited to design and manage a four year project with the objective of developing and implementing a strategy to help professionalise Afghan photography. Commerce & Culture engaged in a long research process locating the widely dispersed and often difficultly reached community of photographers in Afghanistan. Due to insecure conditions for copyright many photographers were reluctant to present their work online, just as the ban on photography imposed by the ousted Taliban regime still left the general safety situation for photographers somewhat uncertain. Through this investigative process Commerce & Culture gained a unique access and insight into contemporary Afghan photography and in 2013 established the Afghan Photography Network in collaboration with Kabul based 3rd Eye Photojournalism Centre. As Commerce & Culture became more deeply acquainted with contemporary Afghan photography and the cultural diversity it conveys, contemplations began of how to make this available to a wider international audience. In 2014 the exhibition Afghan Tales was created as an independent project run by Commerce & Culture.
The network and collaborative efforts that Commerce & Culture established during the project in Afghanistan form the basis for the extensive archive from which the Afghan Tales exhibition is composed. Several thousand photographs are already in the archive with regular new additions coming in which makes Afghan Tales one of the largest dynamic archives on contemporary Afghan photography. It includes a variety of practices and themes and appoints importance both to technical excellence and to the strength of the story and circumstances of the photo- graph alike. As such, Afghan Tales offers a kaleidoscopic perspective on contemporary Afghan society and presents a broad take on Afghan photography itself.
In 2011, upon the initiative of the Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Danish Embassy in Kabul, Commerce & Culture initiated a dialogue with several Afghan photo agencies, institutions, exhibition spaces as well as leading independent photographers. This dialogue formed the point of departure for the creation of a network connecting Afghan photographers with international partners. Two unifying objectives was identified;
To increase awareness of Afghan photography and create opportunities for an international audience to experience Afghanistan seen through Afghan eyes.
To improve business and network opportunities for Afghan photographers and identify and develop new talent through workshops and educational programs.
To understand the reasoning behind these effort one must take a brief look at the background and context of photography in Afghanistan.
Video from Commerce & Culture workshop in Kabul with New York Times staff photographer Jan Grarup
Decades of war have shifted the focus of photography in Afghanistan from capturing the vast landscapes to covering the war and its often tragic aftermath. Since the 1970s, photographs of Afghans and Afghanistan have represented a nation preoccupied with war, a nation lacking opportunities or resources to represent itself.
When the Taliban came to power they did not allow any depiction of living beings. In fact, since 1996 they banned most photography altogether. The Taliban even went so far as to alter advertisements or signs that showed human and animal heads. After the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, press restrictions were gradually relaxed and private media grew, but photographers and journalists in the new Afghanistan operate in one of the world's most complex and contested information environments. Insurgents, NATO forces and the Afghan government are competing to control the dominant storyline. At times, the lines between propaganda, intelligence and journalism blur. In this turbulent media landscape, it is more important than ever that the voice of the Afghan photographers are heard, both internationally and domestically.
Afghan photographers have the possibility to gain access to and create editorials about people and places that might be inaccessible for outsiders. Using an insider perspective they can present a more nuanced portrait of the new Afghanistan to an international audience.
Domestically photography plays a vital role in the way the Afghan population perceives reality. Farzana Wahidy, a female Afghan photographer, pointed this out in an interview about the importance of photojournalism in Afghanistan; "Over 70 percent of Afghans are illiterate, so they cannot read to get information about their country and the world. I find photojournalism useful because such a large percentage of my country's population get their news from looking at photos."