Photographer Spotlights Beauty of Afghan Women

A young woman wearing a vibrant, patterned pink headscarf stands in the foreground with a thoughtful expression. Two men in traditional attire are seen in the background, busy with textiles in a dimly lit room filled with colorful fabric.

Before the fall of Kabul in 2021, photographer Fatimah Hossaini captured Afghan women to tell their stories and spotlight their beauty. But after the Taliban returned to power, she had to leave.

Hossaini, who is Iranian and moved to Afghanistan in 2018, was evacuated on a military aircraft during that chaotic time and now resides in Paris. She tells PetaPixel that the fall of Kabul was a devastating blow, especially for women.

“In Kabul, I focused on amplifying the voices of Afghan women, showcasing their resilience through photography and storytelling,” she says.

“It wasn’t easy in a society with many restrictions, but I persisted, challenging societal norms with each click of my camera.”

A person wearing a vibrant traditional outfit and a purple headscarf is drinking tea in a richly decorated room filled with colorful textiles and fabrics stacked on shelves. The scene is lively with a variety of intricate patterns and textures.

A woman dressed in a white blouse, colorful scarf, and traditional jewelry holds an electric guitar. She stands in a crowded marketplace, surrounded by onlookers. The setting appears vibrant and busy, with various stalls and people in the background.

A group of young girls wearing white headscarves and black outfits sit outdoors on the ground. They hold notebooks and pencils, appearing attentive and focused. The background shows blurred trees and more children.

Hossaini’s grandparents were forced to flee Afghanistan because of the Soviet invasion. She was born in Iran but faced discrimination there owing to her heritage. So after returning to her ancestral home, she concentrated her work on highlighting the “hidden beauty and strength” of Afghan women.

“It was a silent political stance against oppressive social norms, and I take pride in seeing my Afghan sisters celebrated in my exhibitions.”

A person dressed in colorful, intricate clothing and wearing sunglasses and a decorative headpiece sits on a stool outside a vibrant textiles shop while holding an open book. A bicycle rests nearby, and elaborate fabrics are displayed on the ground and hanging around.

A woman stands against a dark background, dressed in traditional, colorful attire. She wears a vibrant, multicolored vest adorned with coins, a green headscarf with gold patterns, large silver earrings, and intricate silver jewelry on her chest and wrist.

But even before the Taliban came back to power, photographing women in Afghanistan was not straightforward.

“During the republic, there was a sense of hope and freedom among the new generation,” she explains.

“I could walk the streets of Kabul, capturing life and portraits despite the challenges. Staged photography required more time and effort, particularly in portraying women’s stories.

“The subject matter was often taboo, but I persisted in shedding light on the lives of Afghan women through my lens.”

Two individuals in traditional attire stand in a narrow market street adorned with colorful textiles. One wears a patterned dress with a yellow headscarf, and the other wears a black dress with a yellow headscarf with blue patterns. Both look towards the camera.

Two women are sitting amidst a vibrant array of textiles in a market. One woman wears a pink shawl with black and purple floral patterns, while the other wears an orange shawl with blue floral designs and a decorative headdress. Shelves filled with folded fabrics surround them.

A person dressed in vibrant traditional attire, adorned with a striking red and black patterned garment and headpiece, sits in front of a shop adorned with colorful textiles and decorations. They hold a long stringed musical instrument, adding to the cultural ambiance.

Under Taliban rule, girls over 12 years old are not allowed to go to school. She says the return of the militant group felt like stepping back into the Middle Ages after two decades of progress.

“It shattered my hopes for a free Afghanistan, and I still can’t comprehend how the Taliban regained power in front of the world’s eyes.”

A group of girls, all wearing white headscarves, sit on a colorful mat outdoors, facing a whiteboard with writing on it. A row of sandals is neatly lined up in the foreground. Two blue buildings and trees are visible in the background.

A group of women sit on the floor in a modestly furnished room. They are dressed in colorful traditional clothing and scarves. Several hold notebooks and papers. The woman in the foreground, in a green headscarf, looks directly at the camera with a serious expression.

However, Hossaini hopes that her photographs help to preserve the stories of Afghan women and their resilience.

“These stories will echo through history, a testament to the enduring strength of the human spirit. I hope my work inspires the voices of Afghan women to rise again and again.”

A woman stands in front of a shop entrance, adorned in a colorful headscarf and shawl featuring intricate floral patterns. The background showcases traditional textile artworks and wooden door frames, highlighting cultural craftsmanship.

A young person wearing traditional colorful clothing and jewelry, with a red headscarf partially covering their head. The individual is set against a dark background and gazes directly at the camera, holding the edge of the headscarf with one hand.

A woman in traditional attire with a white, embroidered headscarf stands next to a bicycle. She wears an ornate cap and a patterned robe. Behind her, there are intricately designed textiles with elephants and floral motifs hanging as a backdrop.

Hossaini’s photography role model is Iranian photographer Shirin Nesat but says she also draws inspiration from icons like Julia Margaret Cameron, Vivian Maier, and Sophie Calle.

She has begun a new project along the Silk Road — the ancient trading route that spans across the Asian continent — focusing on the stories of women in other lands and cultures.

More of Hossaini’s work can be found on her website and Instagram.

Image credits: Photographs by Fatimah Hossaini