Several months into my time in Afghanistan, I came up with an idea to feed my curiosity of the situation outside the base. Per my contract, I was strictly banned from leaving the base I was assigned to. All the locals I spoke with told me about the shopping “bazaar” downtown, their villages, their farming land, and their overall way of life. Yet, I could never experience any of this first hand. I yearned to see for myself their lifestyle, their families and daily lifestyle. One day I brainstormed up an idea. I ordered a simple digital camera that I planned to give to some of the local Afghans to take outside with them for a few days each.
My initial thought before ordering the camera, was that it might create problems for those who chose to take it outside the base for me. Cameras are not something most Afghans generally possess, and having one might put a target on their back. An expensive (to them) piece of equipment such as this might give away the fact that they were working on an American base or they might even dubbed as spies. This, in turn, could make them a target for insurgents. Insurgents looked for any sign of association with the government or Americans as an excuse to attack Afghan citizens. However, after speaking to a couple of the local men I knew fairly well, they assured me they could take some photos discreetly, without drawing attention to themselves. Thus, my photography project began.
These men traveled through their villages, the local shopping market, and even up to Kabul, to capture images of everyday life in Afghanistan. The photos they returned to me were more than I ever envisioned, painting a picture encompassing hope, innocence, resilience and a multitude of other descriptions. Interestingly enough, even though I felt I had a trustworthy relationship with these men, none of them took pictures of their own homes. I believe they still had a bit of suspicion that I might use any photographs of their residences against them.
The images on the following pages are a sampling of the hundreds of digital photos provided to me by these brave Afghan men. When picking the pictures for this book, in order to protect these men, I purposely did not include images showing the faces of the photographers themselves. In addition, I omitted the specific names of particular villages and cities, also to shield certain men’s identities. The photographs as you see them are exactly as they were presented to me. None have been touched up or altered in any way.
The local “bazaar” (shopping market) in the summer. The large ice block is used to preserve perishables.
The “guard monkey”, belonging to the Afghan Border Patrol.
Piles of cookies at the local bakery.
A local school, built by our Provincial Reconstruction Team.
The future of Afghanistan.
A road through a typical local village.
The bustling downtown area of the nearby city.
Men waiting for work, as grocery haulers, at the local market.
Homemade straw goods for sale.
Students at the local university.
Tribal elders gathering for a “Shura”, a meeting to discuss political and religious issues in the community.
The innocence of an Afghan child.
Typical Afghan dress and makeup on a female baby.
“Snoopy”, a golden lab puppy my team and I helped rescue. He was adopted by one of the local men who worked on our base.
Auto repair shop.
Local children playing in a field.
A billboard in Kabul, bearing the picture of Ahmad Shah Massoud, former leader of the Northern Alliance, now deceased.
Children giving their version of a “thumbs up”.