Just before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban was still its official government, Nina Berman went to Kabul in 1998 and to Kandahar in 2000.
Working under the strictest prohibitions against photography, she documented how Afghan women were walking a precarious line as they tested the boundaries of what was possible in a society under Taliban rule. A place where quite literally, the outside world was hostile, scary and male, Nina brought back indelible portraits visualizing an inside world that provided a certain degree of normalcy, intimacy and identity.
Among them is the photograph of a young woman in a burqa and shadow falling transversely across her face. In her hands, she holds her diploma from a vocational school which has an ID photo attached to the certificate as evidence of who she was prior to the Taliban seizure of power. Under Taliban rule, her education and career goals stopped and she became faceless, hidden under the burqa, which she had not worn before.
There is also an image taken of a local Taliban ruler in Logar province, who was exceedingly welcoming, and defied stereotypes, freely allowing conversation and photography.
“Considering the enormity of the billions spent and lives lost in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, it’s a bit ironic, in a kind of tragic way that this photo essay, taken before September 11, 2001, is so often mistaken for contemporaneous images”, says Nina and adds, “in a way, it speaks to the failure of military solutions to transform society, especially one like Afghanistan that has been bombed to oblivion, generation after generation, and used as a kind of play thing by superpowers and ideologues, both Muslim and Christian.”