Photography and little more, by Andrea Taurisano
This is Nafas, 38 years old.
Nafas is perhaps not the average Afghan woman, but a relatively lucky one: she has a modest job which allows her to feed her now too ill husband and their 12 children. Lucky enough to even own the modest house they live in.
Between home and work, Nafas moves as a blue silhouette like those in my previous post (The blue of Afghanistan). At work, even though hidden behind high walls, she is still very discreet and careful not to show too much of her face, surely not a smile, which she always covers with her hand. I saw her often from behind curtains, busy on her duties. And from behind a curtain (her chador) is also pretty much how she sees the outside world.
And yet the last day in Badakhshan I managed to have her pose for a photo, just a few seconds, and here she is, Nafas.
A number of you, after seeing my previous series from Afghanistan, noticed (and commented on) the absence of women.
Well, with this post and probably the next one I focus exactly on the women of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, photographing women there is rather problematic. Just about everyone will strongly advise you against doing so: Photographing a woman (even one in a chador) out in the street may result in you being confronted by angry men or, worse, in her being beaten up. The sad reality is that there is barely worse place in the world to be born as a woman than Afghanistan, with the country’s rural areas being worst.
Here, a woman is a man’s property just like a donkey, and as such to be used and abused. Failing to accept a husband’s authority (even when imposed with violence) can result in jail, or in the worst case in a new, more terrible life begging in the street, with the same dignity as garbage.
Basically no women in Afghanistan get married because they’re in love. Most of them are married off, meaning that at an age of 15 – 20 they are sold by their own parents to the best offeror, a man who not unusually is 20 or 30 years older. An exceptionally fortunate girl may stay home a little longer, study and even get herself a job, as long as each step is discussed with – read decided by – her parents. She may not exactly get married off, but will be engaged to and eventually marry the first man who proposed himself (to her parents) convincingly enough. Once engaged, she’ll even be allowed to date her fiancé, in her mother’s or aunt’s presence, of course.
Women here are generally not supposed to work, but I hear that an increasing number of men now allow their wives to do so, at least in the cities. However, a number of professions that require contact with male strangers or public exhibition (e.g. flight attendant or singer) may still give a woman a social status that’s barely better than a prostitute’s.
To foreign visitors, the women of Afghanistan are melancholic silhouettes of an intense blue moving along dusty road sides, alone or a few steps behind their husbands. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk to those women, to ask them about their lives and dreams or wish them a brighter future. I couldn’t. That chador of blue polyester, worn every single day from their puberty on, is an impenetrable barrier, and not only for the relieving breeze in the intense summer heat..
Just come back from Fayzabad, north-eastern province of Badakhshan, Afghanistan.
Since I will never manage to make my digital shots look like B/W film, more and more often I’m going the only logical way for one who likes the b/w film look: shooting b/w film in the first place (this is Tri-X 400 developed in Adonal, for those of you into that stuff). So here are some faces of the Hindu Kush.
A short yet intense battle against invisible enemies was fought and won here in northern Afghanistan the last couple of days. As internal resistance proved unable to cope with repeated attacks, external support (read antibiotics) was required, which quickly led to victory. Thanks to all “allies” who gave me support during the battle hours..
So here we go. Only few days left to my departure for Afghanistan and the mountains of Badakhshan.
Deciding what photo gear to take with me on this trip was a bit of a process. Having been there last year, I know what awaits me. I know that there is barely a better place in the world for street portraits, barely a place in the world with more photogenic and keen-on-being-photographed men. I know I want to get close to them, again.
So, which lenses do I bring for my Leica M9? A 24mm to get really close, perhaps even into their homes? The all-round 35mm? Or perhaps the portrait lens by definition, the 50mm f2? Last year I had them all and more, and spent too much time choosing and switching (getting a lot of Afghan dust on my sensor..). No, this time I’m gonna go more zen and for the first time leave my M9 home! I’m gonna bring only one fixed-lens digital camera, the Fuji X100 with 35mm, and one film camera, also with 35mm, for more carefully selected shots. I’m kind of sliding back to film and feel it’s about time to expose those expired rolls of T-Max. A point-of-view camera (GoPro 3) is mounted on the Fuji, for some super-wide shots and short films.
Wish me good luck. In a few weeks I hope to show you some interesting shots, Inshallah..
St. Petersburg, Russia, 23rd – 25th March 2013.
If you are interested in the city’s monuments, buildings and icons, you may try to look behind the people in the street photos below, I am generally more interested in life than bricks.