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Documenting The Documenters In Afghanistan: 'Not An Easy Job'


Since the fall of the Taliban 14 years ago, a vibrant local press corps has been growing in Afghanistan. Now these journalists are increasingly on their own as foreign troops withdraw and the international media shutter their bureaus. The new film, "Frame By Frame" takes a look at four Afghan photographers as they try to document life in their country. It's directed by Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach. Ms. Bombach joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to the show.

ALEXANDRIA BOMBACH: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: And in Kabul, we're joined by one of the photographers who is profiled in the film. Her name is Farzana Wahidy. Farzana, thanks for being with us.

FARZANA WAHIDY: A pleasure. And thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Alexandria, if I can start with you. You profiled Farzana Wahidy and her husband. And his name is Massoud Hossaini. Tell us about the other two photographers and how you came to this particular group of photojournalists?

BOMBACH: Yeah, Najibullah Musafer, he's just a really well-renowned photographer in Afghanistan. And when we got there, everyone said, you know, you can't make a film about photojournalism in Afghanistan without talking to him. He had actually shot in secret during the Taliban regime in many other provinces of Afghanistan. And then there was also Wakil Kohsar. And the day we met him, he invited us to film with him underneath a bridge with a bunch of heroin addicts. And that was a story that he was covering.

MARTIN: Farzana, can you talk about the particular challenges of doing this work and being a woman doing this work in Afghanistan?

WAHIDY: To be honest, it's not an easy job to do. But with this photography that I become able to travel around to different places of Afghanistan and be able to, just a little bit, help other Afghan women by sharing their stories. That's actually what makes it easier for me to do this job. Otherwise, most of the time, I have to be honest, it's not that easy to do something that, in most of the places, it's considered forbidden or it's considered against the culture.

MARTIN: Alexandria, did you ever worry that because your camera crews - you were following Farzana and the other photojournalists around - were you ever concerned that you were drawing even more attention to them, that in some way that attention might create more risk for them?

BOMBACH: Yeah, definitely. I think it was just Mo and I filming and following Farzana. And I think we took, you know, her lead whenever we could go somewhere or do anything. We filmed in a hospital, and we were constantly just checking in with her. You know, is it OK to go forward or is it not? Mostly, we were just trying to stay out of her shot (laughter).

MARTIN: Farzana, I would like you to ask you about this moment in Afghanistan because it has been a difficult week. Just this past week, there was a huge protest in the streets of Kabul. Marchers were carrying the bodies of seven people - Hazaras - who had been kidnapped and murdered by a group that claims affiliation with ISIS. Did you cover that, Farzana? Were you at the protest?

WAHIDY: Yes, I was in the protest. And I actually was at the first night that they brought the bodies. And I was photographing. And it was very difficult because the first night, when I was taking picture there, there was one of the guy - one of the relatives, actually - that was crying. And he looked like my youngest brother. And when I saw him crying, it made me to think that what I do, sometimes it may cause me to be hated also because you never know. I travel a lot. And in a moment, I thought that if it could be my brother crying over my beheaded body like that. And I realized that I really don't want that to happen to my brother that will cry over my dead body. And then, out of nowhere, I start crying myself, too.

MARTIN: The international military has pulled out of Afghanistan. There are very few foreign journalists there anymore. Does it feel more dangerous to you to do this work?

WAHIDY: Yes, it has changed. It has become more dangerous. But we are trying inside to try to train Afghan photographers. And actually currently, they are back in their provinces and working, producing photo stories that later we will have an exhibition in these six provinces and publish a photography book for the first time by Afghan photographers in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: You mentioned, you know, when you were covering the protest this past week and you came across this young man who looked like your younger brother and it made you think about the risks of this work. Do you think there will come a time when it is just too dangerous? Can you imagine the situation becoming so risky that you have to find another way to make a living?

WAHIDY: I think - let me tell you. Each time I travel and I go for an assignment - because most of the time I go to very rural areas - and each time I go, I leave a note thinking that I may not come back.

MARTIN: What do you say in that note? Who is it to?

WAHIDY: It depends to the situation. For instance, I have one note - in my notes, it's like, if I die, what they going to do with my photograph of Afghan women, if they publish it, where the money should go. And some notes for my family that how much I love them, and so it has been a while that I'm doing that. And, yes, I think it will get to the time sometimes that it will get too dangerous for me. Even on that time, I don't think I will put my camera down and stop taking pictures. Instead, I will try to do more stories and try to raise a voice from Afghanistan because I think that's the time, as an Afghan - especially as a woman - that I should take my responsibility. And I'm ready to take any risk for this. This is my feeling, that I will never stop.

MARTIN: Farzana Wahidy in Kabul is one of the photographers profiled in the new documentary, "Frame By Frame." It is co-directed by Alexandria Bombach. Thanks so much to both of you.

BOMBACH: Thank you.

WAHIDY: Thank you from me, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.