Our Photo Class Takes to Kabul's Streets

Tamina stoked to be on a horse for the first time
Tamina stoked to be on a horse for the first time.

For the last month the Skateistan design team has joined the Skateistan team in Kabul to professionally document our activities and teach special classes with staff and students. Skateistan’s designers, Alexandra Bald and Ana Lessing, are members of the Berlin–based art and design collective C-D-A-P and designed the recently-released Skateistan Book.

Over their month-long visit to Kabul, they ran a series of classes introducing art and design skills to Skateistan students. One of their most popular classes was an advanced photography class with staff and youth volunteers which was based around a German fairytale adapted to Afghan culture.

The culmination of this photo class was an action-packed, half-day photo outing with 21 youth and staff from Skateistan. Below, Alex and Ana explain more about the project and what it was like shooting a fantasy photo series within three hectic hours, one recent morning in Kabul.

What was the idea behind the classes?

We initially had the idea to create a cultural exchange of sorts.  Through the revisualization of a fairy tale, we would be able to exchange and interlock the stories of European youth with the cultural and social aspects of young Afghans.

The fairy tale we took was a traditional Brothers Grimm story called “The Seven Ravens.”  We worked with the staff to translate the story into Dari, altering some of the cultural differences as we went along. The students were then asked to read the story at home and think about what it meant to them. What was the underlying message? How did it relate to their lives?

What did you want them to do with the fairytale?

We started teaching the photographic process and art direction with the students, introducing the ideas of composition, lighting and camera operation

We wanted the students to use their imaginations – utilizing photography as a means to visualize words and manifest their thoughts into physical realities.

How did they succeed?

Initially the students thought it was impossible to realize the fairytale. It seemed so magical, but as the process continued they saw their fantasies become real.  They really grasped the concept of the story and how it related to Afghanistan and their lives. As this happened they were able to develop their imaginations into photographs.

So was it how you imagined?

It was actually quite enlightening for us. The students took ownership of the story and knew exactly how they wanted the images: they wanted the characters to be on horseback, to travel to the mosque. It was quite surprising for us to compare their interpretations of the scenes to those that we formed when we heard the fairytale as children [in Germany].

How was the day of the shoot?

[Laughing]

One day before the shoot we had confirmed all the planning and locations. However on the day, the atmosphere was quite spontaneous and the whole crew had to adapt to the circumstances and work with what we had.

However every picture was planned prior to the day by the students. That’s exactly how we had planned it together, so we were acting only as guides with all the decisions, actions and photos being made by the students themselves.

It was important to us that the students were the ones who made the project. It was their interpretation and so they would have to decide on locations, who was to appear in the shoots, the composition of each photo, the shutter speed and even the lighting.

For example when they were asked how to translate the magic that occurs during the story they asked for the ravens to be lit from behind with a large light making a flash. It was great to see them thrive on the creative process.

What’s next?

The eight pictures the students shot are great and will be made into an exhibition which will feature the work carried out by the students. The pictures will eventually be accompanied by their explanations of each shot, and the reasons behind the decisions made by the students as art directors.

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Look out for a video of the “making of” the The Seven Ravens Photo Project, coming soon!

Ravens enter the Kings Mosoleum
The ravens enter the Kings Mosoleum

Tamina at the Mosoleum
Capturing the shot in the Mosoleum

Noorzai and Navid in dress
Noorzai and Navid

Ravens in turbans
The students dressed as Ravens in turbans

Room with a light
One of the shoot locations

Parisa with fake baby prop
Parisa with the fake baby prop

The shoot crew
The crew

Sulaiman paints a beard for Merza
Sulaiman paints a beard for Merza

glimpse of a scene
A glimpse of one of the shots

The photography crew
The photography crew

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