Written for PeaceReporter by
The idea behind the Aina Photo Agency in Kabul is to trade Kalashnikovs for cameras.
Founded by an Iranian photojournalist, Reza, and his brother, Manoocher Deghati, the first independent photographic agency
in post- Taliban Afghanistan aims to train native photographers to, “portray Afghanistan
through the eyes of the Afghanis.”
Both a school and an agency, Aina (the name means “mirror” in Persian) was born in 2002 from the rib of an NGO
dedicated to freedom of information. Out of four hundred applicants, twenty candidates
were chosen, from thirteen to forty years old.
“I want to show my country’s beauty.” In classrooms set up inside a former Taliban prison, the aspiring photojournalists
followed an intensive series of courses, including Journalism, Computer Science,
English, and, obviously, Photography. Beginning with the traditional box cameras
used by street portraitists in Kabul, they moved on to 35mm and then to digital
cameras. They learned to develop and print their images and to retouch them with
PhotoShip. The results are: Faces, scenes of daily life, women - with and without
veils and burqas – brightly dressed for holiday. “I want to show my country’s
beauty,” says Fardin Waezi, twenty-two, “by reflecting Afhgan scoiety in images.”
Many of the Aina students see photography as a means of social commentary, a
way of protesting injustice and the arrogance of power. There are two women in
the group of twenty. Farzana Wahidi, twenty-one, grew up under the Taliban and
now wants her chance, “to tell the truth.” Once this was an impossible dream;
today she works for Aina and earns more than most of the men she knows.
A Risky Profession. Najibullah Musafer, at forty the oldest of the group, explains that photojournalism
remains a very dangerous profession. He spent seven months in prison for taking
photos. He produced a documentary film about the Taliban regime in the Hazara
region, and had he been discovered, he would surely have been condemned to death.
“Taking pictures is important for history’s sake, because Afghanistan is changing,”
says M. Ali Omid, twenty-six. He is a survivor of a bloody Taliban reprisal in
the Bamiyan province.
“The beginning of a great addventure.” Reza’s project is supported by many organizations, from a United Nations development
program to the US organization USAID and the Dutch agency Free Voice. Aina is also partnered with many periodicals and press agencies, including
Paris Match, Le Monde 2, National Geographic, The sunday Times, Days japan, La
Vie, and Reuters. Aina has also attracted the attention of a number of prestigious
journalists, including Dimitri beck from France, who is now serving as Editor
in chief. When Reza called him, he immediately declared his support, saying, “There
can be no democracy without an independent media.”
The agency has also benefitted from impressive contributions of equipment and
technology. A fundamental principle of the agency is that their work must equal
or better that of competing photojournalism agencies. Aina now has a network of
collaborators in all the major centers in Afghanistan, a nucleus that has grown
from the first core of program graduates who completed their training in 2002.
Beck concludes, “For all of us, it’s only the beginning of what promises to be
a great adventure.”