Stepping into the field
Interview with Roqia Alavi by Hanifa Alizada and Kirstine Autzen
“It was 6:00 AM when I left home and joined a group of 3rdeye male photographers. In Kabul you see 90 percent men come out into the streets - I was one of the very few women to photograph the event. I did not feel confident enough. It was hard to predict the reaction of the crowd to seeing a female photographer. “
Afghan photographer Roqia Alavi talks about the time she photographed the 10th day of the Muharram in Kabul in 2012. She first ventured out in a group of photographers and started out lightly taking just a few photographs to get a feel of the crowd. What she got from them gave her energy and motivated her to continue:
“It was absolutely unbelievable. When I wanted to have photographs from a new angle, the men themselves helped me get on top of a car and have an aerial perspective. They respectfully helped me get in place without asking what organization I belong to.”
Around her were children in red and green clothes, flags of the same color, and young people attending the event. She indulged in wide shots of the city as well as close-ups as she was, for the first time, observing a religious ritual through the lens. In the afternoon, she returned to the 3rd Eye Photojournalism Center to share the joy of the day with the other photographers.
Born in Iran, Roqia lived in exile in Iran for 16 years during the Taliban regime. After the collapse of the regime in 2002, she and her family returned to Afghanistan. She had dreamt of being a journalist, but when she moved to Kabul she worked as a nurse in a health clinic. Only just over a year ago, in early 2012, did she take up photography when her husband gave her a camera. The gift turned out to satisfy the need in her to be politically active:
“I was looking for influential ways to help along social change, but I had never thought of being a photographer until I got this gift. Photography presents one’s happiness and sadness at the same time, and more importantly remains alive forever.”
Soon after, Roqia found 3rd Eye Photojournalism Center where she met photographer Reza Sepehri and was introduced to professional photography. Through the 3rd Eye Photojournalism Center has led her to be part of workshops. Photojournalistic coverage of Afghan events have for many years been primarily covered by foreign photographers, but at the moment native Afghan photographers are joining forces and making themselves heard.
At the 3rd Eye Photojournalism Center, Roqia – still a novice photographer - participated in a Commerce and Culture workshop with the much more experienced Danish photographer Jan Grarup. This experience made her question herself;
“The use of Photoshop is not very common here. We are told to take perfect photographs instead of photoshopping them to look better. I need some more time to explore my way and answer these questions for myself.”
All the while, Roqia has already thrown herself into the game with the aim to make a difference as a photographer, especially in regards to equal rights for women, who live restricted lives in Afghan culture:
“Most women are known and identified as being someone’s wife or someone’s mother or daughter, but the activities of successful women like Dr. Habiba Sarabi (first female governor in Afghanistan, edt.) and Dr. Sima Samar (Afghan human rights activist, edt.) help. At least women can now go out without a burqa. The more I am active the more I encourage and give confidence to other girls to step into this field.”
Hearing the sentence “It would be better if you were a boy” sends Roqia’s blood to the boiling point: “I want to prove that a woman can be a creator and can build a solid position in their society and family.”
Roqia Alavi has exhibited her photographs in Center for Contemporary Art Afghanistan (CCAA), Afghan Cultural House in Kabul, Mazare Sharif and Bamiyan, and she has had photographs published on websites and print media. Currently, she is a member of 3rd Eye Photojournalism Center. She hopes to obtain a degree in photography and later conduct workshops in photography for women – as well as making it herself as a photographer at an international level.