If you watch the 6 o’clock news day-to-day as I used to, it’s hard not to become disassociated with events that aren’t happening on your front lawn. During the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan, photography was illegal and little-to-no information surfaced from this seemingly dark space. For all its pitfalls, the U.S war on terror opened a door for many Afghan artists looking to document their lives. Frame By Frame follows the rise of photography in Afghanistan, offering a powerful journey through this relatively new renaissance; but most importantly, it offers very human stories from a place too easily forgotten.
Frame by Frame takes focus on four photographers, Massoud Hossaini, Farzana Wahidy, Najibullah Musafer, and Wakil Kohsar. Each photographer stands at a different point in their careers and lives, ranging from the Pulitzer Prize winning Hossaini to Musafer who teaches photography in Kabul. The subjects of the documentary are all linked, Massoud and Wahidy are married and share work with one another. Musafer taught photography to all three and Kohsar remains as a working colleague to Hossaini. The interactions between the key photographers are pivotal to the film, creating the appearance of a real movement taking place.
Although the film attempts to offer balance to those portrayed, the real heroes of the documentary are undoubtedly Massoud Hossaini and Farzana Wahidy. Hossaini rose to prominence through his close encounter action photography, most notably winning the Pulitzer for breaking news photography in 2012. Wahidy has won a slew of awards, but stands out due to her ability to take provocative photos of Afghan women, a task made difficult due to the countries conservatism. A highlight of the film involves Wahidy visiting a hospital in Herat, investigating self-immolation among women. Having gone through multiple roadblocks, eventually the hospital shuts off access to the subjects Wahidy wishes to photograph. The revolution comes when a previous patient is tracked down and interviewed, it is then made apparent that self-immolation is a ruse used to cover for husbands setting light to their wives. An emotional pinnacle for the film, we see Wahidy in full power as an empathetic reporter and photographer.
Frame by Frame tackles the larger social issues in Afghanistan, but doesn’t shy away from examining the day-to-day. Wakil Kohsar shines in this film due to his relation with the everyday life of the Afghan people. A good portion of his screen time focuses on the problems usually shut out from the rest of the world: a family member who has given up on a fair democracy, drug addiction in central Kabul, and the unease found in social events. These close interactions with the people of Afghanistan brings a human element back to a country that is too often stripped of its humanity. Often the day-to-day moments will turn inwards - Kohsar is seen in prayer and speaks to family throughout - creating calm moments in the film and finding real beauty through the vulnerability of the person.
With the U.S withdrawing most of its troops, a fear is shared amongst the photographers of Frame By Frame. To lose a passion would be devastating, but with 2014 being one of the most dangerous years in Afghan history for journalists, a bigger fear is that they may lose their lives. Still, through this fear, all remain resilient and never waver in their desire to bring the human side of Afghan life back to the world.