Afghan photojournalism gets Canadian support

Ahmad ZiaAs the war in Afghanistan drags on, Canadians have seen a lot of photos depicting violence and soldiers through the lens of international photojournalists. But what about Afghanistan as seen through Afghan eyes? Enter the Canadian Embassy and the editor-in-chief of Kabul Weekly, who co-created a photojournalism course in Kabul. One of the teachers, Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, writes about the class and shows off some student work.

Student photograph of Kabul

Canadian Ambassador William Crosbie spoke to the graduates of the second round of photography classes, which were funded by the Canadian Embassy. The students were among the first to visit the new embassy building.

“The world has seen many pictures of Afghanistan.” Crosbie told the graduates. “We wanted to see Afghanistan through Afghan eyes.”

The first cohort, funded by UNESCO, graduated in February 2010.  In both rounds a total of 68 students participated in the classes, including 14 girls. The only condition for participants’ eligibility was a high school diploma, although most participants were students of Kabul University.

The classes were conducted by Aina Photo Agency, and run by Fahim Dashty, editor in chief of Kabul Weekly. The teachers, including myself, volunteered for the project, and conducted classes covering the basics of photography, camera techniques, Photoshop and the history of photography.

The total cost of the 3 month training amounted to approximately $25,000 dollars. The Canadian Ambassador also visited Aina Photo Agency during the course.

In order to be eligible for the class, students needed to be high-school graduates, under 35 years old and have a basic command of English and computer skills. But most participants were students from Kabul University or other private tertiary schools.

The classes ran six days per week and also included practical parts such as photo-taking around Kabul.

 “We request the Canadian government continues its support for the idea, as small changes can make a big difference,” said Dashty.

Fifty photos taken by the graduates will be turned into a photography book. They will also be part of an exhibition shown in Kabul’s historic Babur Garden.  There are further plans to have an exhibition of the students’ photos in Ottawa.
Student photo of Kabul

Aside from Kabul scenes, the exhibition will also include photographs from the Afghanistan’s provinces. They were taken by three students from the class, including two women, who spent a week travelling, thanks to financial support from Canada.

“Such training contributes to a professional press, which supports freedom of expression,” said Gulbudeen Ellham, the head teacher.

Some Afghan media outlets are now calling for the establishing of a press club for Afghan journalists in Kabul, modelled on the one recently opened in Kandahar. The press club established in Kandahar is the first of its kind in Afghanistan. Before its establishment in one of my articles published in J-Source months ago, I have suggested establishment of such a club in Kabul. Perhaps the same idea has been expressed elsewhere as well. The good news for me was that the Canadian Government took a decision to fund a press club, but the “negative” part of the decision was that balance was not considered, given the divergence of journalists present in Kabul versus Kandahar.

For instance at the moment Kabul has 22 TV stations, 15 radio stations, over 46 newspapers, some 100 weeklies, bi-weeklies and monthly magazines. Some 1500 reporters work hard in Kabul to broadcast and publish newspapers on time for a 4.5 million residents of the capital. By comparison Kandahar according to records at the Ministry on Information and Culture which issues licenses for new agencies, has only 1 state owned TV station with limited air time-7 hours per day, 2 radio stations and 3 newspapers.

Unfortunately due to security concerns I was not able to visit the press club in Kandahar and do not know much about its activities.

Although the idea of establishing a press club has been toyed with among journalists in Kabul, at the moment lack of funds prevents them from doing so. Some journalist associations like the one that I am a member (Afghan National Journalist Union) are ready to take the lead in implementation of such a project and provide the necessary assistance.

Having decided to pull out their troops by 2011 Canada should start turning its attention to nation building aspects. Due to the Canadian troop deployment in Kandahar interest in that province is understandable. However in order for Canada to keep up its good reputation among Afghans Canada should expand on its non-military activities across Afghanistan equally.