Afghanistan: The Power of Photography

Free and open media are at the heart of maintaining a free and democratic state.  This is especially applicable to photojournalism, due to the power of photographs to convey emotion and meaning often eluding other media forms.  This was a key component of the thinking that led me, in 2009, to conceive of a photo contest called “Afghanistan Matters.”  This contest invited people of all walks and nationalities who had seen Afghanistan first-hand to submit photographs in four broad categories to a contest being sponsored by the NATO headquarters employing me at the time.  The hope was that we would contribute to broadening the scope of images available on the web, beyond photos of war and violence that tended to dominate the mainstream media, then as now.  I was hoping to tease a few Afghan photographers out of the woodwork to help tell the story of an Afghanistan trying desperately to move beyond the war ruling the country for what is now approaching four decades.

Because photography helps keep a government honest.  The Taliban knew this, which is why they banned photography while they were in power.  In the years since the Taliban’s removal from government, in spite of all of the other challenges Afghanistan has continued to face, there has emerged a growing number of photojournalists and hobby photographers.  Not only are they telling stories that desperately need telling, they are helping to expose and limit the inevitable abuses that occur in a vulnerable democracy occupied by foreign militaries.  And it is important that Afghan photographers continue to have the freedom to tell these stories  – especially as the international community withdraws and a young Afghan government grapples with the temptation to clamp down on critical voices from the media.

Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, a pair of young filmmakers from Brooklyn, are working to protect the freedom of Afghan photographers in an uncertain future.  They’re working on a feature-length documentary about four talented Afghan photographers who have risked their own safety over the last decade to explore new media freedoms and tell the stories of the Afghan people.  Via a kickstarter campaign, they are hoping to raise a total of $40,000 – a pittance, really, for a film – to finish their film on these four photographers and the importance of the work they do.  I encourage you to check them out; if you’ve never donated to a Kickstarter campaign before, it’s pretty cool because you always get something in return, besides just helping them launch their project; for example, in this project, you can donate $35 and get a DVD of the film when it’s finished.  Which is a pretty good deal if you think about it.

Take a look at the imagery they’ve collected so far and use that to gauge whether you think they’ll produce something you’d like to own someday – and whether their story needs telling:

Update:  I’ve since received my copy of “Frame by Frame” – a few years later than I’d hoped, but my wife and I found it to be an excellent documentary, well worth the watch.

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