This ambitious project, which began in 2002, attracted and benefited from the support of photojournalist partners and nongovernmental organizations (NGO). As its founder, Manoocher Deghati, an international photojournalist whose images have appeared in Time magazine and Agence France-Presse, established the first school of photojournalism in Afghanistan. Its support came primarily from the NGO, Aïna Cultural and Media Centre. With its humanitarian mission, this NGO has strived since its creation in 2001 to develop an environment out of which independent media can emerge and cultural projects can bloom at a time when democracy has a fragile foothold in this country. This center enables Afghans who are interested in pursing work in media or in artistic and cultural areas to have access to new technologies and teachers.
To date Aïna Photo has graduated more than 50 students; there are 35 students now enrolled in basic and advanced photojournalism classes. Students are selected for each eight-week course in photojournalism based on their experience with journalism and photography, as well as for the enthusiasm they demonstrate for wanting to play a role in improving the news media industry in Afghanistan. In determining the members of each course, we also want there to be diversity in their ethnic background, as well as in the provinces and news organizations from which they come. We also try to achieve a balance in the gender of the participants.
In December 2006, we began the fifth photojournalism course Aïna has offered — with classes meeting three hours a day, five days a week, including field trips, exams and photo assignments. The students are taught camera operation and Photoshop techniques, and they learn how to edit images to create stories. They also learn about the code of ethics in today's news media. (There is also a separate, more advanced, eight-week course offered.)
As their teacher, I've brought other characteristics to the curricula, and these are based on my experiences as a professional photojournalist. I talk with them about how to network with editors and various ways in which their photographs can be presented. We talk, too, about assessing risks in their work and ways to deal with authorities who might want to control what they do.
The students' enthusiasm for learning is exhilarating. Often they stay behind for hours after the class is over to practice their Photoshop skills. And the level of complexity I am finding in the proposals for their three-week photojournalism assignments is quite remarkable. Not only are the issues they want to cover current and important, but also the planning and reasoning they display in laying out their project idea is elaborate and well thought through. The only difficult thing about the class has been the language (since I teach in English), and that is why the center has set up an English and a Dari (a national language of Afghanistan) photojournalism class.
After students complete the beginning and advanced classes — what amounts to their apprenticeship — some of them become core members of Aïna Photo. Their photographs are published in Afghan publications; our more successful photographers have had their work published in Digital Journalist, Peace Reporter, and EI8HT magazine. Today Aïna Photo has a wide network of Afghan photographers spread throughout many of Afghanistan's provinces.
Travis Beard is chief editor of Aïna Photo. He has worked as a photojournalist for the past nine years, as a freelancer and then with Picture Tank, a Paris-based agency. He blogs about his experience with the Afghan students at argusphotography.blogspot.com. His photography can be found on the Picture Tank and Argus Photography Web sites [see related Web links].
To see Afghanistan through the eyes of Afghan people is Aïna Photo's greatest ambition. Aïna Photo is the first Afghan photojournalism school and agency. Based in Kabul, it offers to the Afghan community the opportunity to tell their stories and share moments from their daily lives after 24 years of conflict and political instability.