Kabul Portraits

NFB | 2014


Kabul Portraits is a co-creation by Afghan-Canadian filmmaker Ariel Nasr and interactive designer Jeremy Mendes of the NFB Digital Studio, and produced by Switch United. The project brings to light a range of storytellers: artists, journalists, filmmakers, actors and photographers, from Kabul -- a city normally not in the public eye for its arts, but for its problems. 


About the project:

A portrait of any kind is a composed image; a direct visual study that reveals a subject’s essence. Though originally a painterly practice, photography and portraiture have had a long relationship, due to the relative affordability of a photograph. In the interactive medium, the art of portraiture has once again evolved, becoming that much more accessible.

Kabul Portraits reveals much about the lives of its subjects and the challenges they face. It also points to the evolution of modern portraiture in the digital interactive medium: from static to flexible, from forthright, to nuanced. 

In this kind of portraiture, what a person looks like is only the beginning. What they sound like, the objects they value, the trail of photographic evidence of their lives they have collected over time, all these aspects form part of the picture. 

Like the city they inhabit, these portrait subjects must be considered in the context of their history, as well as their current reality. 

In Kabul, there is a longstanding tradition of sidewalk photographers using simple pinhole cameras to take elegant, old-fashioned looking portraits.  Blurred at the edges, the grainy images form in real time while the customer waits. It’s a practice that dates back many decades, and like many old ways in 21st Century Afghanistan, it survives, and thrives. 

Ariel Nasr pays homage to the ancient city of Kabul’s modern photographic history through the inclusion of pinhole camera images in this interactive photo and audio journey. 

Determined to address some of the many stereotypes about his father’s country, Nasr has charted a radical departure from the typical news media image of Afghans; one that acknowledges the complexity and beauty of urban life in a society affected by years and years of foreign intervention. 

Reaching past the preconceptions about both subject and form, the project also includes still portraits, moving footage, and audio recordings of Kabul residents from a wide variety of professions and social roles. 

The experience as a whole suggests a set of relationships and social dynamics beyond each individual portrait.  By allowing individuals to tell their own stories, and linking these individuals through a web of associations, Kabul Portraits creates an environment in which the realities and relationships of this society can be pondered without news-oriented editorial intervention. 

In the authenticity and relative quiet of this environment, a new and more multi-faceted picture of a place and its people begins to form.

In the authenticity and relative quiet of this environment, a new and more multi-faceted picture of a place and its people begins to form.



Role: Creative, UX, UI, Motion Design

Kind: Website

Website: kabulportraits.nfb.ca

Client: NFB

Creative Director: Chris Waind (Switch United) | Jeremy Mendes (NFB)

Production Company: Switch United

Date: 2014