Art Refuge UK has been offering art therapy groups for a number of years in Bristol to young unaccompanied refugees seeking asylum in the UK, many of whom are from Afghanistan. We are currently delivering a series of darkroom photography workshops led by Anna Kälin as a further medium for creativity and communication. During the research phase, Anna came across the Afghani box camera, and a local college is generously building one for the charity so that we can now introduce workshops using this wonderful traditional camera.
The simple hand-made wooden camera, called in Dari the 'kamra-e-faoree' - instant camera, and in Pashtu 'da lastunri kamra' - sleeve camera, is both camera and portable darkroom in one. Generations of Afghans have had their instant identity portrait taken with one of these cameras from the side of the road. Along with photographers, the camera itself was outlawed under the Taliban.
This camera could itself be seen as a displaced object, which has the potential to bring its own conversations about displacement and migration. It also has a cultural connection for the young people we work with in Bristol. One 17 year boy from Afghanistan told Anna that he remembered his parents (who have since died) having their portrait taken in this way.
Iranian artist/photographer Farhad Berahman was familiar with these cameras from the streets of Iran where they are still available and operated by Afghani migrants, and has used his own across the UK [Farhad using the Afghan camera]. He suggests that this traditional method of photography allows more room for participants to connect slowly with their surroundings and experience the joy of sharing thoughts and memories with one another, in contrast to instant gratification of mobile phones or electronic cameras.
WE ARE EXCITED TO CO-DELIVER WORKSHOPS FOR YOUNG UNACCOMPANIED REFUGEES IN BRISTOL THIS SPRING AND TO LEARN FROM FARHAD'S EXPERTISE. THIS TRADITIONAL METHOD OF PHOTOGRAPHY WILL GO ON TO BE PART OF ART REFUGE UKS ON-GOING PROJECT IN CALAIS OFFERING REFUGEES THE OPPORTUNITY TO PHOTOGRAPH EACH OTHER AND THEIR SURROUNDINGS.
We are building a dedicated Afghani box camera project for Art Refuge UK with the generous support of Didac Ltd, Woodwise Academy, Riverside, Bristol, through an apprentice carpenter with Young and Norgate; a local blacksmith; an interpreter in training from Languages Services UK; photographic materials discount from Silverprint Ltd; and free studio space at Creative Youth Network. With thanks to the Afghani Box Camera Project (Lukas Birk and Sean Foley) for designs and guidance.