The photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli set out for Kabul with the author, Francesca Recchia, to do a portrait of the city’s creative scene for a very special book project. In their “The Little Book of Kabul,” they show that Afghanistan has more to offer than just war and destruction. The full portfolio can be found in LFI 2/15, available to order.
Q: How did you get the idea for “The Little Book of Kabul”? What did you plan to achieve with the project?
A: I started working on the art scene in Kabul with writer Francesca Recchia in 2011. When Francesca came to Kabul for the first time, we explored the same theme, working together on an article for the Italian magazine Domus. During our research for the article, we gathered so much material and we met so many interesting people that we had the idea of turning it all into a book.
In this new format we could afford much more freedom in terms of space and narrative approach, so we decided to go about it in a more lyrical and less journalistic way. Also we could spend much more time with our subjects.
International media had already covered some of the artists we feature in the book, but it was often in brief articles that were only scratching the surface of their artistic research and their everyday life. With our book we wanted to focus on the actuality of these artists and their relationship with the city of Kabul, a place that can be violent and full of uncertainties, but that also reveals amazing stories of resilience and courage.
Q: How long have you been working on the book?
A: We started doing research in 2011, but the real work on the book started in 2012. The book was finally published in July 2014.
Q: Is it easier for a photographer to work in a creative surrounding?
A: Yes and no. Many subjects in Afghanistan are much more visual than the art scene; we also wanted to stay as far away as possible from the easy, screaming images of violence and destruction. For a photographer it’s not easy to work in an environment with little dramatic action, but this was also our challenge: to work on the similarities more than on the tragedies.
On the other hand, working with creative people makes it easier to find a common ground between their lives and mine. Everybody who faces a creative process has similar decisions to make and similar struggles; so among the Afghans these were the people who were easier for me to relate to.
Q: How does the creative scene in Afghanistan define itself?
A: In Kabul there are some art exhibitions, concerts and cultural events. There is a Faculty of Fine Arts at Kabul University and some independent art schools, as well as music and cultural centres. Artists struggle to be exposed to art produced outside the country and to be recognised by local and international institutions and markets. It’s a small scene, everybody knows each other, but there’s a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm to improve.
Q: How do you see the future for the creative scene in Kabul?
A: A lot of artists are growing and becoming more aware of their message and the possibilities they have to share their production inside Afghanistan or abroad. The development of art there is entangled with the political stability of the country in the years to come. Many fear that the withdrawal of foreign troops will lead to a deterioration of security. If the situation becomes even more unstable and conservative forces gain more power, artists will have an even more difficult time. But at the moment it seems too early to say.
Q: All the images were taken with the Leica M6. Why did you decide to work exclusively with an analogue camera?
A: Digital and analogue images are comparable in quality, but the process is different. When I shoot in film I usually take fewer images; I need to go slower and I’m forced to be more focused on what I’m photographing and how. I find this a good way of learning.
I also like to use a fixed lens so I only focus on the image rather than on the equipment; all the images in the book were shot with a 35 mm Summicron f/2 lens. Photographs are mysterious objects; they can make us feel something and they can create connections. They are also born out of our pleasure in taking them and handling these beautiful objects that cameras are. I love my Leica – its sounds, its weight and how the world looks through its viewfinder – so why not?
Q: Does the publication of “The Little Book of Kabul” put an end to your work on the project? What are your plans?
A: The project of “The Little Book of Kabul” is finished now, but it is part of my personal learning process regarding photography and photographic essay. It’s a step in my own understanding of my identity as a photographer and as a human being. There are some main features that I will keep working on in my next project. The research on black-and-white will certainly be there. Also I want to work more on engaging on a personal level with the people I photograph.
Q: How would you describe your own style of photography?
A: This is a really difficult question; it’s a life-long endeavour to define ourselves. I like images of people because I feel a stronger emotional charge in them. I like the ambiguity of photography: images can tell a story, but can also evoke a moment and a mood, like a memory. I like black-and-white and dark greys.
Thank you for your time, Lorenzo!
– Leica Internet Team
Connect with Lorenzo on his website. View more in LFI. Also available for the iPad and Android.