Apr 10, 2005

Reflections from Afghanistan

Source: Gulf News
By Vinita Bharadwaj

Editor’s note: This story is about the ambitions of a woman journalist–Farzana Wahidy, from Afghanistan and an “experiment” by noted international photographer Reza Deghati, of National Geographic fame. The experiment was to set up an independent non-profit press agency and train both men and women in photojournalism, including writing, photography and Photoshop-which in Afghanistan is a radical new democratic concept, teaching women.

“I wanted to write about the truth,” she told Weekend Review from Kabul, “and I wanted to be a correspondent for one of the international organisations.” A harmless adolescent ambition in most countries, but a potential death sentence in Afghanistan at that time.

This experiment began in August 2001 in the form of Aïna (which means mirror), an independent non-profit press agency that works on the sole belief that a free press is the foundation of a democracy. “The quest for truth, if you like. You cannot have a complete democracy without a free and independent media,” said Dimitri Beck, chief editor of Aïna Photo, one of seven departments within the agency.

Since its establishment, Aïna , has created eight media and culture centres in eight provinces of Afghanistan with the intent of providing support for the country’s news publications. It also conducts video production and training, and has set up the first educational mobile cinema, an Afghan women’s radio station, an Afghan advertising and communications agency, publications and a school of photojournalism, The Aïna Photojournalism Institute.

Photographs by Farzana Wahidy can be found in the Gallery section on the Aïna Photojournalism Institute web site.

It was at this school of photojournalism that Wahidy and 11 others joined as the first batch of students in 2002. “When the announcement appeared for the training institute, there were more than 400 applicants of which only 10 men and 2 women were taken in,” Beck said.

The candidates had no experience in any form of media. The institute’s programme, over a period of two years, included English lessons, basic computer training, Photoshop and internet, but mainly concentrated on photography.

With Reza overseeing the agency and his brother Manoocher Deghati handling the photo division on the field, the students quickly developed an eye for pictures and the natural instinct to help them look at composition, framing, detail and most importantly, the story.

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