Daily Picture Show

How A Female Photographer Sees Her Afghanistan

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    Two Afghan women clad in burqas whisper in a shop in Kabul, 2007. Despite advances in women's rights since the fall of the Taliban, most Afghan women, especially outside the capital, still opt for the all-enveloping cloak.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Afghans feed pigeons at the Shrine of Hazrat Ali in northern Afghanistan, 2009.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    An unidentified Afghan prostitute fixes her headscarf to cover her face in Kabul, 2008. Afghanistan is one of the world's most conservative countries, yet its sex trade appears to be thriving.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    An Afghan policeman is seen through a hole at a police checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, 2007.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    An Afghan girl brushes her hair in Kabul, 2007.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Boys play on a water pipe in a cemetery in Kabul, 2007.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    An Afghan girl bathes her brother near a building where refugees live in Kabul, 2007.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Abdul Malak, who lost his leg in a mine blast during grazing, stands on a prosthetic limb — with his daughter nearby — in a Parwan province village north of Kabul, 2008.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Laila, 7, works on homework in her home in Kabul, 2008.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Arazo, 19 (from right), Tabasum, 20, and Shamayal, 25, who fled from abusive family members, stand for a picture in Kabul, 2009.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    An Afghan boy selling balloons waits for customers in Kabul, 2009.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Afghan women kiss Shiite religious flags during Ashura in Kabul, 2009.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    Ten-year-old Nahid grabs a thread while weaving carpet in her home in Kabul, 2010. Carpets, made mostly in the country's north, are one of Afghanistan's few major exports.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP
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    A photograph taken from behind a burqa, Kabul, 2007.
    Farzana Wahidy/AP

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Born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1984, photographer Farzana Wahidy was only a teenager when the Taliban took over the country in 1996. At age 13 she was beaten in the street for not wearing a burqa, she recalls, and she describes those years as a "very closed, very dark time." To carry a camera would have been unthinkable.

And yet, she says, "I felt lucky compared to other women at that time." Women were banned from continuing their education during Taliban rule. But some, like Farzana, found ways to keep studying. She would carry books under her burqa and attended what she calls an "underground school" with about 300 other students in a residential area of Kabul.

When U.S.-led forces ended Taliban rule in 2001, Wahidy was able to attend high school. A friend encouraged her to apply for a photojournalism program, knowing that she had hopes of sharing her experiences with the world.

"Day by day, as I started learning about photography, I fell more in love with it," she says. "There was a huge need for women photographers in Afghanistan."

An Afghan girl blows bubble gum while cooking for her family in Kabul, 2007.

An Afghan girl blows bubble gum while cooking for her family in Kabul, 2007. Farzana Wahidy/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Farzana Wahidy/AP

Wahidy became the first Afghan female photographer to work for the AFP and later AP, two leading wire agencies, and eventually received a scholarship to continue studies in a photojournalism program in Canada. In 2010, Wahidy returned home to Afghanistan.

"I try to show the bigger image, not just show we have problems," she says. "And we do have a lot of problems, but I do want to show normal daily life."

Wahidy focuses on women. "This subject was important to me because I am a woman," she says, recognizing an advantage that gives her. When she wants to document their lives, "it's easier for a woman to get access," she says.

Her photos of daily life range from men selling balloons on the streets to the secret lives of female prostitutes. And Wahidy was not the only one to recognize the need for this type of photography in Afghanistan. She is now part of the recently created Afghan Photography Network.

"Many Afghan photographers are not well-connected," she explains. "We hope it will create a better connection and show Afghanistan by Afghan photographers."

It is a young website, still in development, but the Afghan Photography Network is already bringing increased visibility to the work of Afghan photographers.

Of the eight women in her original photojournalism program, Wahidy is the only one working as a full-time photographer. Some got married, and others stopped working for reasons unknown to Wahidy. Wahidy, meanwhile, plans to continue for a very long time.

"When I shoot and I get a good photo," she says, "that is a beautiful day."

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