The Real Image

Interview with Golbedin Elham by Kirstine Autzen and Hanifa Alizada

“I started photographing with very old and outdated equipment. I mostly shot with a simple Zenit camera. Lack of money often kept me from continuing photography. My hands felt tied and I sometimes felt deeply discouraged.”

Photo; Golbedin Elham

Photo; Golbedin Elham

This was the beginning of photographer Golbedin Elham’s career when he started photographing in 1993 with the help of his instructor Shameen Khan. He attended long term photojournalism courses and studied with French - Iranian photographer Manoocher Deghati for two years. Today, Elham is the experienced one amongst young men and women moving into photography.

In Afghanistan today, the young are free to pursue a photographic career, given that their family supports it. Whereas this could be seen as a banal right in many countries, in this war tormented country it is not a given.

"Though the camera was my beloved tool, I was scared of it too,” Elham explains, when asked about the status of the camera during the Taliban regime: “At the first days of Taliban government, despite everything, I dared to take out my camera in some corner areas and hastily capture one or two photographs but gradually seeing the cruelty in public worsen, I got scared and forfeited my career and interest. It made me migrate to another country for a while”

In the opinion of the Taliban, creating and capturing images was an anti-Islamic action and an unforgivable sin. During the Mojahedin government from 1979-1989, photography had been possible, but the Taliban dictatorship completely banned it: “Carrying a camera could get you killed”, Elham adds. The interpretation of the Koran was that the act of representing the perfection of Allah’s creations suggests equality to him – which would be blasphemous.

Photo; Golbedin Elham

Photo; Golbedin Elham

Photo; Golbedin Elham

Photo; Golbedin Elham

Today, though some elderly people still shy away from having their picture taken, the interpretation is different. Photography has found its place in people’s lives.

Photographers are now developing their communication with international society. Elham finds it crucial that Afghan photographers start contributing with their insider view of the country with an, as he calls it, “Afghan attitude”. And this does not necessarily mean portraying the country in a rosy red perspective:

“The real image of a situation can carry an honest constructive message. No one is rightly called a photographer without having a critical eye. I never shoot at first glance, I spent some time exploring the situation and the subjects - and then decide what I really want to reflect from this situation,” he says and continues:

“Ideally, I want the street and war children of my country, who have been the motifs of my photographs, to also be my audience.