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iPhones 'Steal' Real-Life Moments In Afghan Capital

The exhibition runs through the end of July at the French Cultural Center in Kabul.
KABUL -- A man is captured as he rushes home with a fresh loaf of bread. A teenager is caught driving an old horse cart during rush-hour traffic. A filthy child is shot while scavenging for scrap metal.

All are "Stolen Moments," a collection of images of everyday Afghan life taken by amateur photographers armed with iPhones.

The exhibit, which just opened at the French Cultural Center (FCC) in Kabul, consists of about 40 digital snapshots and has been lauded for providing a window into the daily lives of residents of the sprawling capital.

Sulyman Qardash, a prominent rock musician and the chief organizer of the exhibit, says the pictures reveal the absurdity, tragedy, and humor of life in Kabul.

Qardash, who has some 20 photos of his own on display, says he found his conventional camera ill-suited to capturing the "missing" images of real-life Kabul.

"Initially, I was trying to take a picture with my professional camera. But when I was taking my camera out of my bag, I was attracting a lot of attention and I was losing that natural moment," Qardash says. "Then I decided to use the iPhone, which is small, and you can take a picture everywhere and nobody will take you seriously. So you can capture that moment or, as we say, 'steal' that moment."

PHOTO GALLERY: A Selection Of Images From "Stolen Moments"

Qardash, 22, says his team, which includes activists Orzala Nemat and Sultana Lodin, compiled the exhibit from the hundreds of photos they took themselves and which they received.

Several weeks later, Qardash says he approached the FCC, which agreed to allocate the team a presentation hall and funds for printing the images.

FCC director Guilda Chahverdi says the exhibition has surpassed all expectations, with hundreds of locals flocking through the doors in the past week.

"We saw the photos and thought they were very interesting," Chahverdi says. "They were taken in good taste. They were beautiful. And they all told a story. A lot of people came to see the exhibition.

"It was interesting for a lot of young people but also for professional photographers. I never quite imagined the photos would generate so much interest."

Sulyman Qardash
Sulyman Qardash
Qardash, who is the lead singer and guitarist for the Afghan indie rock group Kabul Dreams, says he hopes the exhibition will inspire young Afghans to take up photography and other artistic forms.

Qardash, who has called for greater government funding for the arts, says homegrown culture and art has made steady inroads since the Taliban era when, he says, the Islamist movement attempted turn back the cultural clock.

Now, after years of political oppression, war, and religious fundamentalism, he is optimistic that art can provide Afghans an avenue to showcase their rich history and culture.

"[I wanted to] show people that photography is part of art and everybody can take a picture," he says. "I think what Afghanistan needs is for us to [promote] the artistic side of our culture."

Qardash says he has plans to expand the iPhone project to include other cities and provinces in Afghanistan after the current exhibit ends in July. He says his rock band plans to use money it receives from its first album, which it hopes to release this year, to help cover the costs.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan is the editor for Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan in the Central Newsroom at RFE/RL. Previously, he was a correspondent and reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.