Born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 1984, photographer Farzana Wahidy was only a teenager when the Taliban took over the country in 1996. At age 13 she was beaten in the street for not wearing a burqa, she recalls, and she describes those years as a “very closed, very dark time.” To carry a camera would have been unthinkable.
And yet, she says, “I felt lucky compared to other women at that time.” Women were banned from continuing their education during Taliban rule. But some, like Farzana, found ways to keep studying. She would carry books under her burqa and attended what she calls an “underground school” with about 300 other students in a residential area of Kabul.
When U.S.-led forces ended Taliban rule in 2001, Wahidy was able to attend high school. A friend encouraged her to apply for a photojournalism program, knowing that she had hopes of sharing her experiences with the world.
“Day by day, as I started learning about photography, I fell more in love with it,” she says. “There was a huge need for women photographers in Afghanistan.”
Wahidy became the first Afghan female photographer to work for the AFP and later AP, two leading wire agencies, and eventually received a scholarship to continue studies in a photojournalism program in Canada. In 2010, Wahidy returned home to Afghanistan.
“I try to show the bigger image, not just show we have problems,” she says. “And we do have a lot of problems, but I do want to show normal daily life.”
Wahidy focuses on women. “This subject was important to me because I am a woman,” she says, recognizing an advantage that gives her. When she wants to document their lives, “it’s easier for a woman to get access,” she says.
Her photos of daily life range from men selling balloons on the streets to the secret lives of female prostitutes. And Wahidy was not the only one to recognize the need for this type of photography in Afghanistan. She is now part of the recently created Afghan Photography Network.
“Many Afghan photographers are not well-connected,” she explains. “We hope it will create a better connection and show Afghanistan by Afghan photographers.”
It is a young website, still in development, but the Afghan Photography Network is already bringing increased visibility to the work of Afghan photographers.
Of the eight women in her original photojournalism program, Wahidy is the only one working as a full-time photographer. Some got married, and others stopped working for reasons unknown to Wahidy. Wahidy, meanwhile, plans to continue for a very long time.
“When I shoot and I get a good photo,” she says, “that is a beautiful day.”