Posted Saturday, May 22, 2004

Kabul Street Photographers Redefine Power Users

Yesterday's Los Angeles Times contained a fascinating article, written by Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington, about street photographers in Kabul, Afganistan. They use hand-built cameras that evoke those of the mid 1800s: no shutters and built-in developing trays for on-the-sidewalk processing.

What moved me the most in this article was the skill of the photographers:

[Najibullah] exposes the film for about one second on a sunny day, about seven seconds with a wide aperture if it's dull and cloudy.

That done, his right arm again burrows into the camera like a ventriloquist wielding a dummy, and with one eye pinned to a tiny peephole, processes the photo paper in two mini trays of chemicals inside.

"How long I put the paper in the developer depends on the weather," says Najibullah, who like many Afghans has just one name.

If it's hot, the chemicals work fast, so it might be just a second or two. On a wintry afternoon, it takes about 40 seconds before a negative image is revealed.

This man and his colleagues understand photography on an innate level that few of us pixel poodles ever will. And he works around his technical limitations in ways we can't even imagine: to obtain a final positive print, he photographs the negative he shot and repeats the developing process.

Here are two links to the article. Read it and appreciate everything you have.
Los Angeles Times (free registration required).
Printer-friendly version from Pakistan's PakTribune (no registration required).