From the Times: “A Mix of Tradition and Trend in Kabul”

24 Sep
 A Mix of Tradition and Trend in Kabul

In Afghanistan, the photographer Loulou d’Aki made appointments to photograph stylish residents of the capital city. And when the air cooled down, she captured more natural moments in public spaces.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Loulou d’Aki said. The Swedish photographer, who is based in Athens, has worked extensively in the Middle East. Before this summer, however, she had never been to Afghanistan.

She was inspired to visit after working on stories about Afghan people in Iran and witnessing the flow of refugees from Afghanistan into Europe. Her first impressions upon her arrival in Kabul? “It’s very, very complicated,” she said. “And very dusty.” She went on: “And very intriguing and, at the same time, very frustrating.”

As a foreign photographer in Kabul, Ms. d’Aki had to travel with a driver. “You can’t really go anywhere you want and do anything you like,” she said. “I haven’t been anywhere where I’ve walked so little in three weeks.”

She did come across some of her subjects by chance, like the group above, whom she photographed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. But for the most part, she made appointments to see people.

“I wanted to see this sort of young, well-educated group of people, because they would tend to be less traditional in the way of dressing,” Ms. d’Aki said. “I also wanted to see the traditional hairdressers and beauty parlors, just to see what people ask for when they get there.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Ms. d’Aki photographed Ali, 14, in jeans, and Setar, 16, in traditional men’s clothing, before they went out to meet friends. When the girls were born, their mother had yet to give birth to a son. “Their parents decided to dress them as boys,” Ms. d’Aki said, in a practice known as “bacha posh.”

“For families to have a son is very important,” Ms. d’Aki said.

But as teenagers, she said, the girls are confused: “They are kind of convinced that they are boys, or they feel like boys.” And today, their parents, who now have a son, want them to behave like girls.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Niki Tak Azizi buys his clothing in flea markets on the streets of Kabul. His style is more feminine than that of most men in Kabul, Ms. d’Aki said. He told Ms. d’Aki that, like Ali and Setar, he is often harassed as a result of his appearance.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Ms. d’Aki didn’t speak to these men, who were taking photos of each other just before sunset one day during Ramadan. But they seemed to share her delight in this setting.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Sajid, a student, was home for the summer when Ms. d’Aki was visiting Kabul. She photographed him while he was taking a break at a cafe.

In Kyrgyzstan, where he’s studying, he buys his clothing in stores. “But back in Afghanistan he would have them made,” she said. He had this white suit made at Laman, a fashion house in Kabul. His inspiration: classic films.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Fatima Sanzadeh founded what may be the first women’s lifestyle magazine in Afghanistan, which she runs with the help of a small team of female staff members.

Ms. d’Aki, who spent a few hours with Ms. Sanzadeh, said she wears a mix of traditional and Western clothing. “Before I met her, I was expecting something a bit different,” Ms. d’Aki said. “But I think there’s also a limit to what you can do as a woman there.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Ms. D’Aki wanted to find some cricket players. So late one afternoon, when the air had cooled down, she went to a field, where she came upon this eclectic group. Shekib Haqiqi, the man standing in the middle, is the team captain.

“I interrupted them,” Ms. d’Aki said. “I wanted to take a good picture of them because the light was getting nice.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Nazo, 22, and Saida, 20, are Ali and Setar’s sisters. “They are extremely feminine,” Ms. d’Aki said. When she photographed them, they had just come home from work on a TV show, for which they were required to wear these outfits.

“For me it was strange how modern this looked — kind of daring,” Ms. d’Aki said. “They both have dyed hair and a lot of makeup.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Samim Halat’s father owns this kite shop, which has been around for decades. “It’s going really well, but this was not kite season,” Ms. d’Aki said.

Samim, who wants to become an engineer, helps his father in the shop every Friday, when he isn’t in school. He wears the traditional clothing every day, but in school he wears jeans and a T-shirt, he told Ms. d’Aki.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

These girls, dressed up for Eid al-Fitr, ran by Ms. d’Aki at the Kabul Zoo. “The colors are beautiful, and they kind of wore pretty princess dresses,” she said. “This is what you can do until you’re a certain age, and then you can’t do it anymore.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Salim Shaheen, a prolific Afghan director and actor, is the subject of a documentary film, “Nothingwood,” by the French journalist Sonia Kronlund.

Ms. d’Aki met Mr. Shaheen, who wears tailor-made suits like this one, not long after he traveled to Cannes. She couldn’t help but notice the posters in this room and elsewhere in his house.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Habab’s style was influenced by his upbringing in Iran. His family returned to Afghanistan about a year before Ms. d’Aki met him. In their new home, he told her, he doesn’t want to change the way he dresses.

“It has been quite some time since I studied, and I haven’t found any work, either,” he told her. “To be honest, I can’t see much of a future here, so I just put my faith on Allah.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

For a few years, Shakira lived in Iran, working in beauty parlors. When she returned home to Kabul, she opened this salon.

In Iran, she told Ms. d’Aki, many women go to the salon to have their hair and nails done every week. “In Afghanistan they come for a special reason,” Ms. d’Aki said. For Shakira, whose clients don’t tend to be wealthy, business used to be better.

Shakira said that, in most cases, women come in with pictures downloaded from the internet. Other stylists in Kabul told Ms. d’Aki that people there tend to ask for modern haircuts, as opposed to more classic looks popular in the countryside. In men’s salons, Ms. d’Aki said, she saw more than one photo of Justin Bieber.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Harun Najafizada was a journalist with BBC Persian. When Ms. d’Aki met him, the organization had relocated to a temporary office after a major terror attack.

When Ms. d’Aki began photographing him, Mr. Najafizada decided to put this blazer on over his clothing. “You see men doing that,” she said.

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

Ms. d’Aki photographed Mustafa in front of a closed mechanic’s shop one afternoon. When she stopped to ask him about his clothes, he told her that he loves wearing traditional Afghan clothing. “It’s the Islamic way and the way of his country, so that’s how he likes to be dressed,” she said. “I think he wore his scarf very nicely.”

Ms. d’Aki took most of her outdoor photos in the late afternoon, when the swirling wind has cooled the air. “The sun goes up so early,” she said. “And even if you go out at dawn, you’re amazed by how many people are outside.”

Credit: Loulou d’Aki for The New York Times

These men in pakol hats were watching boats near the Qarghar Dam during Eid al-Fitr. “Many men wear them,” Ms. d’Aki said. “I even bought one — it’s so comfortable. I’m looking forward to the winter.”


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