Tag Archives: photography

Preserving Afghanistan’s History – Afghan Archive

The Afghan archive is housed at Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, ACKU.  The center was opened in the spring of 2013.  It is the only archive of its kind in Afghanistan and serves to collect and preserve all documents and books related to Afghanistan’s modern history, at this moment numbered around 80,000 and growing.

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The bulk of the center’s archive was collected by Nancy and Louis Dupree who started collecting Afghan books and documents while living in Peshawar among Afghan refugees.  The eclectic colletion includes communist propaganda, UN reports, fliers printed by warlords, books, photography, and newspapers.  There are also a number of photography books from the 1960’s and 1970’s that show Afghanistan, and particularly Kabul in a completely different light than what most imagine it was.

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The fascinating part of the story is how Nancy got the collections from Peshawar to Kabul.  Starting in 2006, they began to smuggle around 60,000 documents back to Kabul in plastic bags hidden in trucks fearful that the collection could be destroyed if discovered. A team works to digitize all the documents in the archive for a free open sourced digital archive that anyone in the world with a computer can access.   The enormity of the task means that the team estimates it will take till 2017 to catch up.

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The archive not only preserves books and documents, it also had a separate room that houses a newspaper archive.  I visited with my friend, Jelena Bjelica, a Serbian journalist living in Kabul, who is now working with ACKU.   We were surrounded by piles of bound books of newspapers including Taliban newspapers under the name Shariat, and various mujahedeen newspapers, each faction had its own.  The library manager, Rahim Qaderdan, opened up a book of Shariat papers, noticeable for their lack of photographs.  The sense of history that surrounded me, palpable in the yellow pages stacked to the ceiling.

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The collection first went to the Kabul Library and now is housed in a modern architectural building, ACKU, on the Kabul University Campus.  The center hosts a variety of speakers and presentations in the auditorium.

I was there to deliver a copy of the Streets of Afghanistan book for the archive.  An incredible honor.  I watched the book go to the archivist’s desk to get its identification number and label.   It is now a part of the Afghan archive housed inside the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University a part of Afghanistan’s modern history.

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The book is available for sale – proceeds benefit Mountain2Mountain – at www.streetsofafghanistanbook.com  by Hatherleigh Press.

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Power of Photography: Voices – Mariam Alimi

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I had the pleasure of meeting with one of the talented Streets of Afghanistan  photographers, Mariam Alimi, today in Kabul for lunch.   I met her briefly 5 years ago, in November 2008, when I met all the Afghan photographers in Kabul for the first time at AINA Photo Agency to discuss the inception of the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition.   I delivered her a copy of the book and over pomegranate juice and lunch we talked about the exhibition and the power of voice, the power of photography.   As we talked about her career and how she started as a photographer in 2006, we talked about courage, and activism, and women’s rights, and our cultures.  Mariam said at one point when talking about her start in photographer, “I was not so brave as I am now.”  When I asked her to explain I was surprised to learn that it was intrinsically linked with the key photograph of hers that we used in the exhibition.

One of her first photographs was one she took in Heart, its one that we had in the exhibit and its one of my favorites.

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This man was a poppy farmer near Herat decades ago, before the mujahedeen.  During the civil war and the Taliban times he moved to Iran.  While there he learned about saffron cultivation.  When he returned in 2002, he starting planting saffron thanks to the help of an organization that gave him a few bulbs from the Netherlands.  Each year his crop grew a little more and eventually he started sharing the bulbs with other farmers to cultivate.   When Mariam met him it was to interview him as part of an organization to make a documentary about saffron cultivation.  After they got done filming him, he asked if he could hear what he sounded like and they put the headphones on him and played back his interview.  This photo was taken at the moment he first heard his voice and the look of pure joy hits me every time I see the photo.

But Mariam almost wasn’t there to take the photo.  As a single Afghan woman, she lived at home and had to ask her father’s permission to go with her organization to Herat.  She had never traveled without her family before, and she was scared to ask her father.  She invited her boss, a foreign woman, to come to dinner and meet her family and in the conversations that followed, she asked Mariam’s father for permission to come with her to Herat.  He agreed to allow her to go, and it was the first step of a journey that changed Mariam completely.   She continued to ask permission to travel and now she has traveled all around Afghanistan, and to many countries, including the United States.

When we started talking about how change for women in Afghanistan starts, she gave me a beautiful example that reminded me of my own journey.  “Everyone when they are young thinks, “I want to change the world”.  As we get older, we realize that we should start by changing our country.  But the difficulties make us realize that we should focus on changing our community.  Then we realize that our own families are part of the larger problem so we should look at changing our family.  Finally, with age and wisdom we realize, everything starts with us, as individuals, and that real change must happen from within each one of first. “

Mariam leads by this example.   She is unusual for Afghan women of her age, one of the handful of female photographers in Afghanistan, she walks the streets by herself, meeting strangers, taking photos.  When she speaks with young girls, they often say to her, “I am not as brave as you, I could not do what you do”.  Mariam tells them that it’s not a matter of being brave or not brave.  It’s about taking a small step in the direction you want to go.  Change yourself first, so that others see you for what you really are, and live your life in a way that reflects what you believe, and those around you change in unexpected ways in reaction to you.

You can see more of Mariam’s work on her website and her work in the groundbreaking, Streets of Afghanistan exhibition, in the newly released book available through Hatherleigh Press and Random House.  Streets of Afghanistan book

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Photography, Voice, and Hope in Afghanistan

The Streets of Afghanistan was a project based in hope.  Using photography as voice, and art as activism, we set up a series of street art installations in Afghanistan.  Red Reel was with us to document five of the seven exhibitions.  We can now share with you the beauty of the country, the reactions of those that saw the exhibition, and the place that art has in conflict zones.  It was such an honor to bring this exhibition to Afghanistan and to share it with Afghans.  We return in the spring for a finale exhibition in a secret location, and then distribute the photographs to orphanages, girls schools, women’s groups, Kabul stadium, and the Mayor’s office as a thank you for his office’s support of this public exhibition in the Kabul locations.  Thank you everyone that supported this project, we couldn’t be prouder.

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Hipstamatic Biking in Kabul

6:00am in Kabul.  A light rain was falling, but Georgian photographer, Mikhail Galustov and I agreed, rain or no rain, let’s go for a bike ride.  Our destination?  Kabul’s historic Darulamon Palace.

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Streets of Afghanistan Exhibitions a Success

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”  – Joel A. Barker

Against the odds, Mountain2Mountain completed 5 public exhibitions and 2 photo stagings at historic sites over the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

The first was a staging at Kabul’s historic Darulamon Palace.

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A Garden of Photography for Women in Kabul

Women were a rarity at the three public exhibitions in Afghanistan.  While many families attended Babur Gardens, only a few saw the exhibition in Istalif and the Kabul Zoo.  Therefore, it was a pleasure to bring the exhibition to the Women’s Garden in the heart of Kabul.

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Street Art Amazes at Kabul’s Babur Gardens and the Kabul Zoo

Over 1,000 Afghans came through to Babur Gardens on the second day of Eid celebrations – making for enormous crowds at our first Kabul exhibition. The majority of the crowds were men and boys, but families did arrive and several groups of women joined the throngs. It was a lively event with many Afghans taking their photos in front of the images with cellphone cameras.

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‘Streets of Afghanistan’ Exhibit in Istalif

Yesterday we premiered the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition in the village of Istalif, a remote village in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. Four years ago, I envisioned a collaborative photography exhibition between Afghan photographers and Western photographers that had deep affection for this country. Instead of a gallery show, I imagined surrounding the viewer in the image to bring the art off the wall, and into the viewers world.  I wanted to see people’s reaction as they interacted with lifesize images and hoped that it would change American perspectives of Afghanistan – that if we saw it as a country with a beautiful spirit and culture that we would be more invested in it from a humanitarian perspective.

Yesterday I saw that vision come full circle as we brought the exhibition TO Afghanistan, among Afghans themselves to surround them with the beauty and spirit of their country and communities.  28 photographs lines the market streets outside of the mosque on the first day of Eid in the village of Istalif and the reaction was nothing short of amazing.

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Sneak Peek at Kabul’s Darlumon Palace

29 life-size photographs made it all the way from Colorado through Kabul airport for a series of public art exhibitions in Afghanistan.  Other than getting our roll of duct tape confiscated in Dubai security – everything arrived intact.

Today, was the sneak peek at Kabul’s historic Darulaman Palace. Stay tuned for what comes next!

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Streets of Afghanistan – A Cultural Exhibition

One of the most important things we can do as a non-profit organization is to make a connection. Not just between donors and projects, but between communities and individuals. Working in Afghanistan makes that connection very difficult to achieve.

Time and time again, people travel to the far-flung corners of the world, and come back changed forever. Touched by the people they met, the smells, the food, the landscape, they become connected in a visceral way. The people that have lived and worked in Afghanistan have that visceral connection, but it is not a place we can take donor trips to or host student exchanges.

Couple the lack of security with the media coverage of the war on terror, and the stereotypes built around a nation that has endured nearly forty years of conflict, and it becomes even more difficult to connect to the real Afghanistan. Mountain2Mountain was founded on the idea that we can create a ripple effect of change and compassion by connecting communities and cultures.

Out of that founding principle, Streets of Afghanistan was born. A multimedia exhibition that unites Afghan and Western photographers and videographers to bring a little piece of Afghanistan into our world for one night. Visitors walk amongst 10×8 foot high images and video projections that recreate the market streets in Kabul. The rolling green hills captured by photographer Beth Wald, look more akin to Norway than Afghanistan until you notice the yak train in the corner. It creates a different sense of place than the deserts and dusty landscapes usually associated with the region. The beauty, and the dichotomy of that beauty, set against the destruction and history takes your breath away.

The signature image of the exhibition, is a woman covered in a burqa sitting with her child in her lap, begging in the middle of the road. The image captures both the pain and beauty of Afghanistan; juxtaposing the dream-like quality of the country and its residents, against the ravaging effects of three decades of conflict and war. Photographer Tony Di Zinno captured the image from an oncoming car — lensing the feeling of impending contact. In reality, the driver stopped when he came to the woman and handed her some food from the kebab stand he had just visited for lunch.

Interspersed amongst the landscapes and streets, seven-foot-high portraits of women greet visitors. Images of teachers, students, police officers, ministers of parliament, mothers, and victims of self-immolations show the diversity of the women of Afghanistan — their beauty and strength in a country known for its oppression. Walking, ghost-like, through the crowd the images, and the video projections of market scenes and rural life, are real women dressed in the different colored burqas of Afghanistan.

Art has the power to change. Streets of Afghanistan aims to do just that; open hearts and minds in an effort to combat apathy with compassion. “Dare to believe in our common humanity” is not just our tagline — its a call to action. Come join us!

Streets of Afghanistan opens in Denver with a one day event at the Denver Art Museum on April 28, 2011, followed by an event at the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art as it begins its journey as a traveling cultural exhibition.

 

photo by Di Zinno

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