Roving street photographers and studio portraitists in
The kamra-e-faoree was once viewed as a magical contraption in parts of rural
Before the coming of the box camera, a small number of photographers catered only to the rich and privileged. This humble apparatus democratised photography, allowing ordinary citizens to have their portraits taken relatively cheaply. The boxes were made by local carpenters – only the foreign-produced lens had to be bought – and were feats of considerable ingenuity. The lens hole and the focus plate had to be accurately aligned and the whole structure made sturdy enough to withstand extreme temperatures, continuous transportation and the constant risk of it being knocked over as it was set up on the narrow pavements of
Heavy and cumbersome, it also required the photographer to travel with a table and a tripod. Often the boxes were brightly painted or decorated with patterns and charms to attract the attention of curious passers-by. As Birk and Foley point out, every single camera was different, and dealing with their idiosyncrasies – leaking light, rickety tripod legs, the long sleeve through which the photographer had to manipulate the negative, sight unseen – was an art in itself. For several generations of Aghan children, the camera remained a thing of magically transformative power.
In the late 1970s, when large numbers of young Afghans joined the army and the mujahideen to fight against the Soviet invaders, the kamra-e-faoree photographers thrived as they were called on to provide images for military identity cards. Likewise, in 2001, when the Afghan education system was overhauled, student identity cards were made compulsory.
Ironically, though, it was the country's inescapable bureaucracy that has helped seal the fate of the Afghan box camera. Of late, all identity photographs have to be in colour and, as a result of that one edict, box cameras are suddenly rendered obsolete. Many were thrown on rubbish dumps, many more left to gather dust in storerooms across
The images collected in Afghan Box Camera range from the charming – several head shots of uncertain-looking children – to the surreal – a double-exposure of one
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