Renewal: Afghanistan | Special issue on Afghanistan

No Strings Attached

Sumit Dayal

Before leaving for Afghanistan in the spring of 2007, I began to notice a resemblance in the appearance of most subjects that I was shooting. It was the need to arrive at another visual vocabulary that compelled me to carry along with my other equipment, a plastic Holga camera to Afghanistan. However, with this camera I had no great expectations of what the result could have been and therefore, no pressure to take images of the ‘exceptional’. I recorded scenes without any overriding agenda. Unfolding episodes of daily life, the static-ness of objects, childhood memories etc., … virtually anything that would trigger inside me a feeling for the image, urged me to click and then immediately move on.

Three months later as I looked at the Holga contact sheets, I found frames with vignetting blurs, light leaks, and other distortions –all incidental facets that had entered the frame. The camera’s inability to be controlled beyond a point had resulted in the creation of surreal scenes taken at the spur of a moment.

Ironically, the ‘low-fidelity aesthetic’ of the camera did some justice in depicting my experiences in Afghanistan. A feeling of being alienated, of unanswered questions, uncertain moments and of a time vacuum were somehow, faithfully revealed – a roving, personal journey disclosed without words.

All images from the series No Strings Attached Afghanistan B&W film, 2007


Poem by Shakila Azzizada
Translated by Mimi Khalavati

If my heart beats
for Kabul,
it is for the slopes of Bala Hissar,
holding my dead
in its foothills.

Though not one, not one
of those wretched hearts
ever beat for me.

If my heart grieves
for Kabul,
it is for Leyla’s sighs of
‘Oh, dear God!’
and my grandmother’s heart
set pounding.

It’s for Golnar’s eyes
scanning the paths
from dawn to dusk, spring to autumn,
staring so long
that all the roads fall apart
and in my teenage nightmares
side roads
suddenly shed their skins.

If my heart trembles
for Kabul,
it is for the slow step of summer noons,
siestas in my father’s house which,
heavy with mid-day sleep,
still weighs on my ribs.
For the playful Angel of the Right Shoulder
who keeps forgetting
to ward away stray bullets.

It is for the hawker’s cry
of the vegetable seller doing his rounds,
lost in my neighbours’ troubled dreams,
that my heart is trembling.