Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part photo essay. In part one, our writer told how she spent three months in Afghanistan experimenting with what it is like for a woman photographer. She was accused of being a spy. She traveled with family members for safety.
An Afghan female photographer has the advantage of gaining access to the private lives of people. It is easier for her to go inside people’s houses and take pictures. If a man asks to go to a house, it is more difficult to get permission. While in Herat, we traveled to a remote area. I found a Kuchi family by the bank of river. Kuchis are migrant families who travel alongside the river with their herds of sheep and goats.
My brother asked the man if I can take pictures and he said yes. I went into their tent and saw his wife and took the pictures of his children and how they live. The tent was very empty. There was an old rug, a pot, and traces of a fireplace on the ground.
The woman was standing with a big smile and had a small infant in her hands. The infant seemed to be sick and he was very tiny and pale. The wife was speaking in Pashtu and I could not understand her because my language is Persian. However, one of her younger boys translated and told me that his mom asked if I am a doctor and can I help her infant. She said that her baby is sick. I explained that I am not a doctor. I took some pictures and departed. Later, I thought perhaps they let me take pictures in the hope that I might be able to help them.
Many Afghan people do not laugh or even smile in photos, even though not all of them have miserable lives. When I was a child my father would tell us to not smile, and to close our lips when he took our photo. Therefore, most of my childhood pictures are serious. I think my father was saying this because it is related to my culture and religion, which says a stranger should not hear the laughter of a woman. Or perhaps he wanted to show his authority by showing other members of the family that he can command them. Maybe that was the style of pictures at that time, because my father laughs in his pictures now, as we all do. I do wonder why in most of the photos I took the adults are so serious and even frowning. The children laugh and smile, though. I think that is because they are less constrained by cultural norms and feel free to smile.