Until 2001, taking or having photographs was outlawed in Afghanistan. But after the Taliban lost their stranglehold on the country, what followed was nothing short of a photojournalist uprising. The weapons of choice? DSLR.
From NoFilmSchool.com: In their feature documentary Frame by Frame, which can now be requested through Gathr’s Theatrical-On-Demand, Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli follow four brilliant photographers at the helm of Afghanistan visual media transformation. No Film School sat down with Alaxandria and Mo at SXSW for their world premiere to talk about anything from what Afghans are shooting on, using headscarves to block glare on the streets of Kabul, or selling their truck to get halfway across the world.
NFS: One of the central themes in the film is how visual images are crucial to either your cultural identity. When you’re talking about the digital camera revolution in Afghanistan, what are we talking about?
Mo Scarpelli: Photography actually had a long history in Afghanistan. There were these box cameras that we show in the film, the pinhole camera. These beautiful little portraits that they do in the streets was a part of that culture. All that was ripped away basically during the Taliban regime. When the Taliban banned photography, it was this situation where basically photography was a hot button thing. If you owned photographs, they were ripped up. If you took photographs, you could be beat up or put in jail or even killed. A lot of Afghans were not okay with the Taliban being in power at all, let alone instituting these laws that would stop them from expressing themselves. When the Taliban was ousted from Kabul in 2001 and photography because legal again, along with music and other things that were banned, a lot of people for sure were excited that photography was a possibility again. Many people wanted to be able to photograph their own lives and photograph the lives of their friends and their family. Journalism had this huge upsurge and this, “Photojournalism revolution” we call it, unfolded.
If you owned photographs, they were ripped up. If you took photographs, you could be beat up or put in jail or even killed.
At the same, to be expected, there is some precariousness around photography because it was banned for a while, and it was considered blasphemy by the Taliban. And while it’s not pervasive across all of Afghanistan, there are also some parts of the culture that doesn’t want women to be seen — showing a woman’s image is considered distasteful, and not respectful of a woman’s image and her own modesty. Women are still figuring that out, and the culture is still figuring it out after having this oppressive regime tell them what to do with women, what to do with their media.
We were in Kabul and saw, for the most part, this very excited feeling around photography. It’s being captured by phones. Everybody’s taking pictures of everything all the time. Journalists are excited to be using imagery. The people are excited to be seeing imagery. One of the photographers in the film, Najibullah, actually has this massive following on Facebook and he posts pictures every single day that he takes. People are so excited about seeing their country documented that way.