In cooperation with the Royal Dutch Army Museum, as an independent photographer, I made the series ‘Kabul Portraits’, about Dutch troops in Kabul, Afghanistan. I strove for a visual representation of what working in a hostile environment means to a young soldier who has not yet seen much of the world.
While I was in Kabul in 2002, I came across some street photographers who were taking passport photos of Afghans in a square. They were using an antique camera in a large wooden box, called a kamra-e-faoree. Afghanistan is one of the last places on earth where photographers use this simple type of instant camera. Generations of Afghans have had their portraits taken with it. At one stage it was outlawed when the Taliban banned photography. The hand made box is both camera and darkroom in one. No film is exposed to make the picture. Instead, the light falls on a piece of photographic paper that is developed and fixed in the box.
I had my own picture taken. When I saw the result, I decided to make portraits of the Dutch troops using this camera and this technique.
At the NATO compound I improvised a studio and borrowed a camera from one of the street photographers. I selected the soldiers on the basis of facial expressions and a certain presence. The subjects, sometimes holding a prop, were required to remain motionless for a full ten seconds while I took their pictures. The Afghan photographer was the assistant and developed the photos on the spot.
The tightly framed, unpolished black-and-white portraits full of dust, scratches and tears must represent the soldier’s raw world.
Book publication: ‘Kabul’ (Legermuseum)
Works from this project are included in the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
“The Kabul Portraits take your breath away.”
— De Volkskrant