This Too Is Afghanistan

A week ago we received our first guest photographer submission from a photographer who prefers to go by the name evanistan,  and who lives and works for an Non-Government Organization in Afghanistan. Needless to say I was floored. In my correspondence with evanistan I told him that what I like so much about this series of images is that they are a window into a side of Afghanistan that most Americans have never seen. I think that the average American thinks mostly of all the horror stories that we hear: little girls getting sprayed with acid for going to school, the Taliban being oppressive and scary, journalists being kidnapped and beheaded, etc. What I see in  his pictures are loving families, people with a sense of humor, a beautiful landscape, people that I can identify with. However, it is not just that the content of evanistan's photographs is compelling, he also has an eye for light, composition, lines, and negative space. Normally I would go on and on about this sort of thing, but I'm going to cut it short and and let evanistan do the talking, because even better than the pictures is what he has to say.  

I live and work in Afghanistan. For fun I take a picture every now and then. Photography is very un-Afghan though, and since I actually live here and am not just passing through, I try to respect the cultural guidelines for public/street photography—no women or girls you don't know, no standing there composing the shot, just quick shooting from the hip in the least intrusive way possible. Those restrictions, plus the never-ending and usually losing battle of trying to convince the local developer to do a good job, make film photography a real challenge here. Maybe because of those obstacles film has become an addiction more than it was in the States.

This is a beautiful country with beautiful people who are some of the most hospitable in the world. The average citizen is quick to help, quick to share, quick to focus on similarities and quick to promote peace and understanding. That's all I have to say. You probably have some idea of the problems and I don't have one single solution, so I will just say the situation here needs help in a multitude of capacities. There's really no way to generalize about it.

I first came here for a few days in 2007 to hang out with some friends and thought, "Man, how cool would it be to live here and do the same kind of awesome work they're doing." So I thought about it for three years and after I graduated from the University of Texas last semester I came over and started doing it. A lot of people in Austin and Houston helped me in major ways, from donating money to just talking me through the process of leaving. 

I guess there were a lot of influences on me in deeper ways too, from the Tao Teh Ching to the Sufi Muslim poets to the life of Isa al-Masi. There is always this idea of regeneration via community—of new life that springs up when we share with others, when we touch the sick, when we work for peace, when we reach over borders, when we sacrifice for the needy. That regeneration not only heals others but it also heals our own hearts as well, because we all are in need equally. 

I realized that sharing (time, money, resources, knowledge, access) is actually a charged political act, a revolutionary anomaly in our often violently enforced human culture of greed, defensiveness, and "business as usual." I also realized that the end result is not the point. There is no way I can change this country in a major way even if I do this my entire life. But the process is the important part—how it is changing me, and how little changes are being made in the lives of the people I do interact with. 

For more of evanistan's pictures check out his flickr steam. There's some more film stuff, and some seriously lovely digital pictures as well. Also read his blog, it is fascinating and wonderful. 

*All of the images in this post are © evanistan, and were shot with a SuperHeadz toy camera using Fuji color pro film. evanistan will be getting a better film camera soon, and I can't wait to see what he does with it.  

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