The Afghans' new-found freedom to shoot photos could disappear again when the US leaves

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. American troops are preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. Some could stay if an agreement is reached between the US and Afghanistan before that, but that may not happen and many Afghans are very worried. They fear that the American withdrawal could be followed by a spike in violence and maybe even a return to a way things were under the Taliban. One group of Afghans who are especially concerned are photographers. They're the subject of a new documentary called "Frame by Frame." It's by American filmmakers Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach.

Alexandria Bombach: Photography specifically, along with a lot of other things, were banned in the Taliban regime, starting in 1996. So when that ended in 2001 with 9/11 and that regime was gone and the ban was lifted, it just has been revolution of photography in the last 12 years, of people taking it on and also really building careers with it and the economy around it. It's gone from a complete blackout to a total resurgence.

Mo Scarpelli: This is Mo. I guess I just want to reiterate how devastating this media blackout was for the Taliban, to actually have a policy in place that said it is illegal to take a photograph. So each of our photographers, the four characters in our film, have their own personal history of no photography or secret photography or whatever they did. One of the photographers shot in secret and we have access to this really incredible footage and photography that nobody else got because people just weren't willing to risk their lives to go out and take photos.

Werman: Mo Scarpelli, there's a photographer you followed named Farzana Wahidy. She's the first female photojournalist in Afghanistan. What is her story?

Scarpelli: She's amazing. Farzana has a really unique history. Of the four characters, she's the only one who stayed in Afghanistan for her entire life. She was there during the civil war, she was there during the Taliban regime. She went to school in secret, hiding her books as she walked through the streets to get to a secret school at someone's apartment. She helped raise her family. She was looking for a way to be a powerful person in her life, to have her own power as a woman and her family was supportive, which is pretty unique at that time and also, I think even now, unique to have a father who said "Yes, go, get an education. Work. I support you as a person, as a professional," and so she did. She's built her own career basically from scratch.

Werman: And this is all post-9/11?

Scarpelli: Post-9/11; she, in 2001, she heard about this group called AINA, which is a photojournalism training organization. She was 17 years old and she was like "I have to do this," and so she actually lied about her age because you had to be 18 to apply. She got in and she's now always, for the rest of her life, going to say she's like a year older. So as a woman, it's hard to work in Afghanistan, it really is. But the other side of that coin is that she has a super unique access with women in Afghanistan.

Werman: One of the photographers you follow is a man named Massoud Hossaini. He's won a Pulitzer, the only Afghan to have ever done so. I was surprised to hear him express how certain he was that once the US troops leave the Taliban will come back. Do the other three share that same concern and do these photographers just worry that their professions and the whole ability to document stuff might suddenly evaporate again if a similar Taliban orthodoxy were to come back?

Bombach: I think with Massoud, there's so many passionate emotions going on with what the people feel the future will be. It really is a time where people don't know what's going to happen. Everyone thought that Karzai was going to sign the agreement with the US right away. We thought the Loya Jirga was going to go through, all these different things. Our other characters, as far as how they felt, Najibullah Musafer, he is very confident that Afghanistan is going to go into a bright future. Massoud is a little less optimistic and Farzana is optimistic but also has seen what can happen, so it's very fascinating to go through the experience with each one of these characters because they all have such different opinions of what they see happening in the future.

Werman: Alexandria Bombach, Mo Scarpelli, filmmakers behind the documentary "Frame by Frame." Thanks for speaking with us and for telling these photographer's stories. Greatly appreciated.

Alexandria Bombach: Thanks so much Marco.

Mo Scarpelli: Thank you.

Werman: You can see a trailer for their film at PRI.org.

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