frame by frame

Did you know that in Afghanistan during the Taliban rule, photography was illegal?  Not only was it forbidden to walk around with a camera taking photographs, if the Taliban came across personal family photographs, the images were destroyed.  Apparently, the Taliban's strict interpretation of an Islamic ban on human images and idols being an insult to God made the taking of photographs of any living thing a criminal act.  I can't even imagine what that must have been like, man.  I literally take photographs every single day.   Capturing images is more than a habit for me -- it's practically an involuntary compulsion.  The idea that I couldn't capture a fleeting, beautiful moment and make it permanent ... WELL.  I suspect being forbidden to do so would have a deeply detrimental impact on my psyche and well-being.

Several months ago, I stumbled across a Kickstarter campaign for the documentary Frame by Frame, created by two American filmmakers, Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach.  The two filmmakers followed four Afghan photojournalists (one of them a Pulitzer prizewinner) as they attempted to create an independent voice for photography in Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban's departure.  Because the film struck me as a worthy cause -- telling the story of the reestablishment of a free press -- I donated to the Kickstarter campaign, and then promptly forgot about it.  The campaign funded, and apparently I had donated enough to get a preview of the film before it hit theatres.  Last week, I received a link in my email inbox allowing me to watch the film in its entirety.

People, go see this film.  It is, by far, the most thought-provoking thing I've seen all year.  Watching these photographers literally risk their lives to tell the stories of their country was breathtaking -- particularly the work of Farzana Wahidy, the lone female photographer of the group, who has dedicated her work to sharing the stories of Afghan women.  The idea that by merely taking a photograph -- even though doing so is legal now -- could risk the photographers' lives, their subjects' lives, and even the lives of the employees who just happen to work at the various sites where the photographs are taken, defies all comprehension.  And still, Wahidy and her colleagues persist, in their commitment to tell the truth.

(I ain't gonna lie, the film also made me question what the hell I've been doing with my life.  These folks are incredible.)

Ultimately, however, the film reconfirmed to me how important photography is -- not just for the telling of stories, because of course, words can do that -- but also for providing context and texture and colour to those stories.  Photography is important cause an image that tells a story, when done right, piques the viewer's curiosity, leaves him asking for more information, and inspires him to learn and connect further.  And also, I've always firmly believed that each photograph tells as much about the photographer as it does its subject:  if a viewer looks closely enough, he will find that an image reveals as much about the photograph's creator as reading her diary would.

In any event, seriously, see this movie.  It has me rethinking how I want to shoot going forward, both for y personal photography projects and my professional ones.  And finally, it has made me wonder which of my favourite images tell stories, which ones feel like a peek into my most personal diary pages, and which ones feel like a bit of both.