“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” Loulou d’Aki said. The Swedish photographer, who is based in Athens, 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, Ms. 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 above, whom she photographed during the Eid al-Fitr holiday. But for the most part, she made appointments to see people.
“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,” Ms. d’Aki said. “I also wanted to see the traditional hairdressers and beauty parlors, just to see what people ask for when they get there.”
Ms. 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,” Ms. d’Aki said, in a practice known as “bacha posh.”
“For families to have a son is very important,” Ms. 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.
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, Ms. d’Aki said. He told Ms. d’Aki that, like Ali and Setar, he is often harassed as a result of his appearance.