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A Mix of Tradition and Trend in Kabul

By Eve Lyons & Kerri Macdonald

 
Loulou d'Aki
 

“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Loulou d’Aki said. The Swedish photographer, who is based in Athens, Greece, has worked extensively in the Middle East. Before this summer, however, she had never been to Afghanistan.

She was inspired to visit after working on stories about Afghan people in Iran and witnessing the flow of refugees from Afghanistan into Europe. Her first impressions upon her arrival in Kabul? “It’s very, very complicated,” she said. “And very dusty.” She went on: “And very intriguing and, at the same time, very frustrating.”

As a foreign photographer in Kabul, d’Aki had to travel with a driver. “You can’t really go anywhere you want and do anything you like,” she said. “I haven’t been anywhere where I’ve walked so little in three weeks.”

She did come across some of her subjects by chance, like the group she photographed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. But for the most part, she made appointments to see people.

Loulou d’AkiMen wear colourful traditional clothes during Eid al-Fitr celebrations by the Qargha Reservoir, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in late June 2017. Photographer Loulou d’Aki made appointments to photograph stylish residents of the capital city.
Men wear colourful traditional clothes during Eid al-Fitr celebrations by the Qargha Reservoir, in Kabul, Afghanistan, in late June 2017. Photographer Loulou d’Aki made appointments to photograph stylish residents of the capital city.

“I wanted to see this sort of young, well-educated group of people, because they would tend to be less traditional in the way of dressing,” d’Aki said. “I also wanted to see the traditional hairdressers and beauty parlours, just to see what people ask for when they get there.”

Loulou d’AkiAli with sister Setar, who's in a traditional outfit for men.
Ali with sister Setar, who's in a traditional outfit for men.

D’Aki photographed Ali, 14, in jeans, and Setar, 16, in traditional men’s clothing, before they went out to meet friends. When the girls were born, their mother had yet to give birth to a son. “Their parents decided to dress them as boys,” d’Aki said, in a practice known as “bacha posh.”

“For families to have a son is very important,” d’Aki said.

But as teenagers, she said, the girls are confused: “They are kind of convinced that they are boys, or they feel like boys.” And today, their parents, who now have a son, want them to behave like girls.

Loulou d’AkiNiki Tak Azizi buys his clothing in flea markets on the streets of Kabul.
Niki Tak Azizi buys his clothing in flea markets on the streets of Kabul.

Niki Tak Azizi buys his clothing in flea markets on the streets of Kabul. His style is more feminine than that of most men in Kabul, d’Aki said. He told d’Aki that, like Ali and Setar, he is often harassed as a result of his appearance.

Loulou d’AkiA man in traditional clothing takes pictures of another next to a rose bush in Kabul.
A man in traditional clothing takes pictures of another next to a rose bush in Kabul.
Loulou d’AkiSajid, a student in Kyrgyzstan, wears a white suit made at Laman, a fashion house.
Sajid, a student in Kyrgyzstan, wears a white suit made at Laman, a fashion house.

Sajid, a student, was home for the summer when d’Aki was visiting Kabul. She photographed him while he was taking a break at a cafe.

In Kyrgyzstan, where he’s studying, he buys his clothing in stores. “But back in Afghanistan he would have them made,” she said. He had a white suit made at Laman, a fashion house in Kabul. His inspiration: classic films.

Loulou d’AkiFatima Sanzadeh,  founder of a women’s lifestyle magazine.
Fatima Sanzadeh, founder of a women’s lifestyle magazine.

Fatima Sanzadeh founded what may be the first women’s lifestyle magazine in Afghanistan, which she runs with the help of a small team of female staff members.

D’Aki, who spent a few hours with her, said Sanzadeh wears a mix of traditional and Western clothing. “Before I met her, I was expecting something a bit different,” d’Aki said. “But I think there’s also a limit to what you can do as a woman there.”

Loulou d'AkiShekib Haqiqi, center, the team captain, with his cricket teammates in Kabul, Afghanistan. From left: Fawad, Shafi, Haqiqi, Mathikan, Fardaz and Sargar.
Shekib Haqiqi, center, the team captain, with his cricket teammates in Kabul, Afghanistan. From left: Fawad, Shafi, Haqiqi, Mathikan, Fardaz and Sargar.

D’Aki wanted to find some cricket players. So late one afternoon, when the air had cooled down, she went to a field, where she came upon an eclectic group. Shekib Haqiqi is the team captain.

“I interrupted them,” d’Aki said. “I wanted to take a good picture of them because the light was getting nice.”

Loulou d'AkiSisters Nazo and Saida.
Sisters Nazo and Saida.

Nazo, 22, and Saida, 20, are Ali and Setar’s sisters. “They are extremely feminine,” d’Aki said. When she photographed them, they had just come home from work on a TV show, for which they were required to wear their outfits.

“For me it was strange how modern this looked — kind of daring,” d’Aki said. “They both have dyed hair and a lot of makeup.”

Loulou d'AkiSamim Halat in his family’s kite shop.
Samim Halat in his family’s kite shop.

Samim Halat’s father owns a kite shop, which has been around for decades. “It’s going really well, but this was not kite season,” d’Aki said.

Samim, who wants to become an engineer, helps his father in the shop every Friday, when he isn’t in school. He wears traditional clothing every day, but in school he wears jeans and a T-shirt, he told d’Aki.

Loulou d'AkiGirls at the Kabul Zoo.
Girls at the Kabul Zoo.

Girls, dressed up for Eid al-Fitr, ran by d’Aki at the Kabul Zoo. “The colours are beautiful, and they kind of wore pretty princess dresses,” she said. “This is what you can do until you’re a certain age, and then you can’t do it anymore.”

Loulou d’AkiDirector and actor Salim Shaheen.
Director and actor Salim Shaheen.

Salim Shaheen, a prolific Afghan director and actor, is the subject of a documentary film, “Nothingwood,” by the French journalist Sonia Kronlund.

D’Aki met Shaheen, who wears tailor-made suits, not long after he traveled to Cannes, France.

Loulou d'AkiNow living in Afghanistan, Habab continues to dress the way he did in Iran.
Now living in Afghanistan, Habab continues to dress the way he did in Iran.

Habab’s style was influenced by his upbringing in Iran. His family returned to Afghanistan about a year before d’Aki met him. In their new home, he told her, he doesn’t want to change the way he dresses.

“It has been quite some time since I studied, and I haven’t found any work, either,” he told her. “To be honest, I can’t see much of a future here, so I just put my faith on Allah.”

Loulou d'AkiBeautician Shakira.
Beautician Shakira.

For a few years, Shakira lived in Iran, working in beauty parlours. When she returned home to Kabul, she opened a salon.

In Iran, she told d’Aki, many women go to the salon to have their hair and nails done every week. “In Afghanistan they come for a special reason,” d’Aki said. For Shakira, whose clients don’t tend to be wealthy, business used to be better.

Shakira said that, in most cases, women come in with pictures downloaded from the internet. Other stylists in Kabul told d’Aki that people there tend to ask for modern haircuts, as opposed to more classic looks popular in the countryside. In men’s salons, d’Aki said, she saw more than one photo of Justin Bieber.

Loulou d'AkiJournalist Harun Najafizada.
Journalist Harun Najafizada.

Harun Najafizada was a journalist with BBC Persian. When d’Aki met him, the organization had relocated to a temporary office after a major terror attack.

When d’Aki began photographing him, Najafizada decided to put a blazer on over his clothing. “You see men doing that,” she said.

Loulou d'AkiMustafa, pictured before a shopfront.
Mustafa, pictured before a shopfront.

D’Aki photographed Mustafa in front of a closed mechanic’s shop one afternoon. When she stopped to ask him about his clothes, he told her that he loves wearing traditional Afghan clothing. “It’s the Islamic way and the way of his country, so that’s how he likes to be dressed,” she said. “I think he wore his scarf very nicely.”

D’Aki took most of her outdoor photos in the late afternoon, when the swirling wind has cooled the air. “The sun goes up so early,” she said. “And even if you go out at dawn, you’re amazed by how many people are outside.”

Loulou d'Aki
 

Men in pakol hats were watching boats near the Qarghar Dam during Eid al-Fitr. “Many men wear them,” d’Aki said. “I even bought one — it’s so comfortable. I’m looking forward to the winter.”