Camera

Promises written in ice, left in the sun

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Kiana Hayeri has lived and worked in Afghanistan for more than eight years. Her photography focuses mainly on women and girls living in war conditions and in Islamic society. She is particularly concerned with capturing alternative images of people’s daily lives, documenting the impact of decades of conflict, while drawing attention to the stories, strength, and dignity of the individual. Since August last year, when Western troops withdrew and the Taliban returned to power, the situation for women has worsened. After more than a year, it has become clear that numerous promises have been broken, human rights ignored and conditions for women in particular are more devastating than ever. This makes images of the country even more important. Despite the most difficult circumstances, Hayeri wants to continue working as a photographer in support of women’s rights.

Could she briefly describe the series of her WOLF of her?
My work focuses on Afghan women; the same women who were put at the center of the war efforts to free them shortly after the Americans invaded Afghanistan. Today, many of these women feel that they have been abandoned and left behind. While I have covered the front lines and dramatic events of the war, I have also tried to capture a different and alternative narrative for America’s longest war. The consequence of a single narrative is that it not only robs people of their dignity, but also impedes our ability to have the same compassion. Afghanistan is a place of extremes, the best and the worst of humanity coexist. Fear and courage, despair and hope, life and death coexist.

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She too was in Kabul last year and had to witness the return of the Taliban.
Yes, last summer we all watched in disbelief as 20 years of progress in free speech, women’s rights and education were wiped out in 20 days as the country swiftly fell into the hands of the Taliban. Today all those gains have been replaced by more restrictions, fear and uncertainty. Afghanistan remains a country with open wounds that are struggling to heal.

How did the title of the series come about?
The title was an expression I once picked up from an Afghan therapist, while working on a story about the state of mental health among women in Afghanistan.

What images did you choose for your LOBA series?
In this portfolio, you will find stories of women who discovered that killing their husbands was their only way out of domestic violence and now, even though they are in prison, have found peace. Stories of girls from some of the most remote regions who walk for hours, rain or shine, to go to school. Stories of mothers mourning the loss of their teenage daughters who were brutally murdered as they left their school in West Kabul. The story of a woman whose four children took different paths in life by joining opposite sides of the conflict. She carries a gaping wound on her throat that doctors believe is caused by pain.

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How have you lived the last few years in Afghanistan?
That is a very difficult question to answer; because I think those of us who live there had a different experience year after year. Our day to day in 2014 was different from 2016, different from 2019, 2021 and today.

How has your work changed? What is no longer possible today?
Geographically speaking, I think it’s possible to travel everywhere, but people just hide in fear and are often reluctant to talk. Also in the last month or so, the Islamic Emirate has gone the extra mile to make the job very difficult. They are not brave enough to cut off our access, but they make sure to waste so much energy, time, and resources that we give up.

How do you get in touch with the people you portray?
My local colleagues and I have created a network over the years that I have lived there. We just reach out, make phone calls, talk to people to find whoever we need to find. Sometimes you just have to show up somewhere and hope for the best. However, it is really a team effort. Some of the people I work with leave an impression on me, and those are the ones I try to keep in touch with the most. Either through direct phone or Whatsapp.

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What responsibility do you see for yourself as a photojournalist?
With so many images being created every day, I think our role as photojournalists has changed. I remember Stephan Mayes once telling me (paraphrasing a bit here): the era of single images has come to an end. Now it is a flow of images that builds narrative and tells stories. I think as photojournalists we have to be more thoughtful and form those streams of images to change public perception and change minds.

What does the LOBA Award mean to you personally?
It really means a lot to me to receive it; especially since the jury mentioned that my commitment to Afghanistan was admirable and outstanding. I hope the award and exhibition will attract attention and keep Afghans, especially Afghan women, in the news for a bit longer. I hope my photos help bridge the gap and humanize these people who have been stripped of everything they had.

Kiana Hayerishe was born in 1988, in Tehran, Iran, where she grew up, before immigrating to Toronto, Canada, as a teenager. In 2021 she received the Robert Capa Gold Medal for hersWhere prison is a kind of freedomseries, which documents the lives of Afghan women in Herat prison. In 2020, she received the Tim Hetherington Visionary Award; and she became the sixth recipient of the James Foley Award for Conflict Reporting. Hayeri is a Senior Fellow at TED and works regularly for The New York Times and National Geographic. She lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. Discover more about her photography in herswebsiteandInstagram channel.

All images from the LOBA series and more information can be found atLOBA website.
The LOBA 2022 catalog also contains all the images and an interview with the photographer.

PostingPromises written in ice, left in the sunfirst appeared inThe Leica Camera Blog.