The Seldom Seen Faces Of the ‘Humans Of Kabul’

July 18, 2015

Humans of New York has become a worldwide hit, with hundreds of thousands of people “liking” Brandon Stanton’s photos on Facebook — candid shots and candid comments. Among this month’s posts: A dad taking his headstrong little daughter for a walk and observing, “This is tougher than the Marine Corps.”

HONY, which started in 2010, has given birth to spinoffs around the world, including Bombay, Paris, Tel Aviv — and Humans of Kabul, which offers rarely seen glimpses of ordinary life in Afghanistan.

Boston photographer David Fox has been living in the Middle Eastern country since 2013 after moving there for a job with the American University of Afghanistan. Soon he began photographing and chatting with people in the streets of Kabul — from woodcarvers keeping their ancient art alive to young women who defy social norms by riding bikes.

Every person, Fox believes, has a story to tell. But in Afghanistan, he says, the stories are often overshadowed by news of car bombings, human rights violations and drone warfare. So when he arrived in the country he started Humans of Kabul on Facebook. He wanted to give regular people a place to share their voices. He runs the Facebook page with Soraya Afzali, a photo student at the American University of Afghanistan.

For Fox, Humans of Kabul is more than a collection of cool photos. “These photos challenge the idea that everyone is constantly ducking for cover as a result of the latest gun fight or explosion,” he says. “These people are living normal lives, caring about regular things like their children’s education, dating, their jobs.”

One photo show a fruit vendor hustling to make enough to support his family through the winter. Another is a close-up of a young Afghan woman, who struggled to adjust to life in Kabul after moving from Pakistan, where her parents were refugees. But she doesn’t regret the move: “When we were living in Pakistan, we may have been comfortable, but we did not have big dreams or expectations for ourselves, since we knew we were immigrants.”

Among the most popular photos, Fox says, is one he took of an all-girls biking club, started by teens to combat the stigma against women being outside by themselves in Kabul. “We want to bike and bike and bike until people stop staring at us,” the caption reads.

“People are fascinated by things that challenge their preconceived notions,” Fox says. “That’s when I realized people really wanted to see the female Afghan perspective because traditionally in the media, the images that people saw were of women with no voice, no face.”

Humans of Kabul, which has about 20,000 followers, has given Fox the change to practice his photo skills and to learn Dari, one of the main languages spoken in Afghanistan. He says one of the most challenging parts is the interview. “We try to get beyond simple [answers],” he says.

“We are representing a city that is very poorly represented in international media,” he adds. “This a country that needs to have human faces put on it.”

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