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Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Friday, 3 October 2008 11:53 UK

Behind the lens: Harriet Logan

Unveiled: Voices of Women in Afghanistan


The award-winning photographer Harriet Logan first travelled to Afghanistan in December 1997.

Her many encounters with the extraordinary women of the region made a lasting impression upon her and initiated a project that continued for five years.

A new exhibition of the work, curated by Julian Stallabrass, will appear at the Independent Photographers Gallery, as part of this year's Brighton Photo Biennial.

Logan was commissioned by the Sunday Times magazine to document the lives of Afghan women under Taleban rule. Fifteen months earlier, and after three years of fighting against the mujahideen, the Taleban had taken control of the country.

Logan's photographs reveal the world of the women that lived there, their lifestyles and their aspirations.


We entered Afghanistan from Pakistan via the Khyber Pass and the first think that struck me was the sight of hundreds of white flags - Taleban flags.

Women wearing Bhurkas
Many women still wear burkas in Afghanistan

There was also a really tangible sense of fear there. When you walked on the street people didn't look at you. I think that's a really good indication of how scared people were of the regime.

When I went back in 2001 people would often stare but in 1997 they would just look away or look at the ground. This made you feel very alienated and cut off from them on a personal level.

At the time I didn't know much about the country - there was nothing like the knowledge we have now.

I remember as I was walking from the picture editor's office him saying "oh by the way you ought to know photography is illegal in Afghanistan". Not surprisingly this made working incredibly difficult.

I was sent with a male journalist and we had to register with the Taleban on arrival so in actual fact I was issued with a permit - I could take pictures of war damage but not people.

On registration we were also given an official translator and driver. They accompanied the journalist but I was only permitted to travel with other women and so travelled separately.


In a way it allowed me more freedom. I also had to wear a burka which meant nobody could tell who I was.


A sense of sisterhood

The women I met were incredible. We worked with a small group and I was lucky to have an incredibly fearless translator call Marina who was adamant that it was important the story be told.

She was the only woman I refused to photograph and identify because I was really worried about the possibility of my film being confiscated. If they had seen Marina's picture they could have found all the other women.

The women were unbelievably delighted that anyone was taking any interest in them. One of the things that has stood out during my travels in Islamic countries is the sense of sisterhood that you get. They told their stories to me so powerfully and they were adamant that if nobody listened nothing would change.


Changing times

Going back in 2001 there were huge differences. The markets were packed full of Bollywood posters and films, soap with pictures of women on the packaging were being sold - as were kites, lots of kites.

The more important changes included the fact that women were able to work, and I'd seen an illegal home-school under the Taleban and upon my return the same kids were in the same class but attending school legally.

a woman calls out to people travelling in a car
Women could not work outside their home or go to school


I don't have a photographic inspiration as such - there are other people's work that I love, but my main inspiration in photography has always been from the people I meet. I've always felt it's about telling other people's stories and not just about trying to make an art form.

It's a collaborative process - especially with a project like Afghanistan - it's about giving people the time and opening up the possibility of having their story told. I've always felt incredibly privileged to be a photographer because it allows me to step into people's homes and lives - that is the thing that motivates me.

I received a letter, following the magazine publication, from a school girl in Belfast who had seen the piece along with her mother and aunts. She wrote to say it had opened their eyes to something they'd not heard about. It made me feel that it had an impact and did make some difference.


Unveiled/ Harriet Logan. Runs 3 October - 15 November, Independent Photographers Gallery, 3 Old Brewery Yard, Battle, East Sussex TN33 OAF.


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