Once a week the residents of a villa in the Qala-e-Fatullah neighbourhood of central Kabul host a casual evening during which two or three local photographers share new work. On a projection screen in the corner of the living room, Javier Manzano’s newest documentary film flickers as a small audience of newspaper writers, independent filmmakers and photojournalists huddle together on low couches, taking in the story. The group includes several members of Razistan, a collective of locally based photojournalists covering Afghanistan from a resident’s perspective.
Unlike many foreign aid, embassy and military employees who rarely have the privilege of experiencing the culture of the country unaccompanied by security personnel, all of Razistan’s photojournalists have been living and working in residential Afghan neighbourhoods, without armored cars or body guards, for years. They shop at the local market, speak enough Dari to get by and produce stories no outsider parachuting in for a week or two could access.
It was this hard earned entree into Afghan culture coupled with a frustration with the western media that lead to the creation of Razistan. Headed up by New York Times Magazine writer Luke Mogelson, the collective includes nine photographers all of whom live and work in Afghanistan. Founding contributors include, Mikhail Galustov, Joel van Houdt, Lorenzo Tugnoli, Sandra Calligaro, Jonathan Saruk, Jonte Wentzel, John Wendle, Javier Manzano, Jake Simkin and the group’s photo editor, Pieter ten Hoopen.
With subject matter ranging from Kabul’s middle class, Helmand Province’s Afghan National Army, the Afghan competitive-body-building subculture, village militias in Wardak Province and female elders who have assumed male identities in the mountains of Khost, Razistan has ambitions of complicating and enriching the narrative. ‘This is one of the richest places in the world in terms of stories,’ says Mogelson whose enthusiasm for bridging the gap between American photo editors and local talent has already put some fresh names into print.
The group has been using web platforms Tumbler and Kickstarter to get going while a multimedia website is in the works. If they raise enough money by June 9th the collective will launch the project at Razistan.org. Plans based on fund raising initiatives in the future include workshops for aspiring Afghan photographers as well as new reportage projects.
At a time when the future of the war-ravaged country is less clear then ever, this group of photographers, armed with their long-term commitment to documenting the lives and struggle of everyday people, are determined to reawaken the world’s interest in Afghanistan, one civilian story at a time.