05/05/2005versione stampabilestampainvia paginainvia

Seeing Afghanistan with the eyes of Afghanis
Written for PeaceReporter by
Francesca Micheletti
Aïna Photo Agency, KabulThe 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.
Aïna Photo Agency, Kabul“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.
Aïna Photo Agency, KabulA 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.
Aïna Photo Agency, Kabul“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.”