When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, representations of human forms were banned—with one exception: men could sit for passport photos (women were represented in their travel documents by fingerprints only).
Young Taliban men flocked to Kabul’s photo studios—but not for passport photos. Instead they brushed their long hair, applied makeup to the flesh around their eyes, and posed affectionately with friends and sometimes guns.
Just weeks after the Taliban were driven from Kabul in 2001, photographer Thomas Dworzak wandered into a photo studio near his hotel and discovered piles of these photographs. As he scooped them up and paid for them, shop owners looked at him like “some stupid Westerner.”
He’s assembled the photographs in a book. His photo agency, the legendary Magnum Photos, has produced a short video and slideshow with commentary by Ahmed Rashid, a veteran correspondent in the region.
Rashid points out two things in an attempt to explain the photos, chief among them: Afghans love to have their picture taken.
He also speaks of a “very strong homosexual tradition” in Afghanistan, “in which an older man will kind of adopt a young man and become a lover and teach him whatever skills he may have.”
Though Taliban leader Mullah Omar banned homosexuality, Rashid explains, this tradition, particularly in Southern Afghanistan, “continued, but it was done surreptitiously.”
Dworzak’s found photographs are captivating evidence of a piece of Afghanistan’s history buried by the daily drumbeat of new violence.