Wandering the back streets of Kabul I found myself on Passport lane where Afghan citizens go to have their photos taken for government ID’s. After watching the photographer at work with a couple of subjects, I fell in line to have my photo take as well. The process was slow, about 10 to 15 minutes to shoot, develop and print a photo for each customer. Which gave me the time to study and admire the work of this real street photographer. The Afghan box camera is a giant handmade wooden box known as the kamra-e-faoree, meaning “instant camera” – I call it the “Afghan Polaroid”. Working with only natural light the photographer uses a 35-millimeter camera lens attached to the front of the box and instead of clicking the shutter, the photographer removes the lens cap for a second and replaces it. Inside the box camera is an entire darkroom – paper, developer and fixer. After the latent image is exposed to a sheet of photographic paper, the photographer inserts his hand into the box through a cut-off pants leg designed to keep out light that would ruin the print.
He develops the image by moving the paper through two trays, one holding developer and the other fixer, to create a paper negative. He then makes another exposure, which converts the negative image into a positive print. It was truly impressive to watch how smooth and precise the photographer worked.
Having been briefly banned along with music and paper bags by the Taliban the kamra-e-faoree camera is in danger of disappearing again as digital cameras become more common place in Kabul.
Lukas Birk is well aware of the historical signifiants of the Afghan street photographers and their camera. Mr.Birk has creating the Afghan Box Camera Project. For any photographer who appreciates the history of cameras and film this is a worth while cause. Link:http://www.afghanboxcamera.com/
Ever wonder who is filming the rock climber two thousand feet up, dangling from the granite walls of Yosemite? Ever consider how a cameraman got those claustrophobic shots deep inside the ancient tunnels beneath the pyramids of Egypt? How about the intense handheld footage of the war in Afghanistan or the Los Angeles riots, and what kind of cockamamie person would voluntarily put himself into that chaos?
Surely you didn’t know that while shooting documentaries in exotic locations, a cameraman, or “shooter,” will have to brave blinding sandstorms, blistering heat of the day, bone marrow freezing nights, and even recognize the sharp crack of a gunshot followed by the screaming hiss of bullets passing by his head. Even worse, he’ll have to survive the projectile side effects of eating what some cultures call “delicacies” and what we would simply consider “repulsive.”
Dispatched all over the globe, I have embarked on the types of trips that only few travelers ever experience, and I’ve done this with hundreds of pounds of camera equipment. I’ve risked life and limb for the sole purpose of sharing the farthest reaches of the world with the audience back at home. I’ve covered expeditions, mountain climbs, archeological digs, adventure races, civil strife, and war. I’ve been shot at, lost in the Sahara Desert, and chased by a foreign army. I’ve strayed into a landmine field twice, and had a bounty on my head. Perhaps scariest of all, I’ve covered a story on fainting goats in Nebraska. Sounds like fun, huh? For decades years, I have taken the risk to bring the world into your living room. One day working The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in a air-conditioned concrete bunker drinking free coffee and eating as many pastries as I could eat, the next in hostile locations in the Middle East, North Africa or Oceania. – only on occassion would Europe come in to play.
We were not mentioned in S. E. Hinton’s book The Outsiders. Hinton’s novel takes place in Tulsa Oklahoma in the mid-sixty’s which is a beautifully written anthropology of the class division between high school teenagers. The Socs (pronounced ˈsoʊʃɪz / so-shis, short form of Socials) were from middle income to upper income families on the south side of Tulsa. They drove new cars given to them by their daddy. Thier social uniform were wheat jeans, penny loafers, button down collar madrases shirts, and white socks. Their haircut was reminiscent to the moptops of the Beatles. On the other hand, the greasers were boys from lower-class blue collar families from north Tulsa. Most were shade tree mechanics driving old 50’s Chevrolets and Fords that were retrieved from auto salvage yards. Their uniform were Levi’s, hand me down jean jackets, tee-shirts, Converse All Stars, and most important Brylcreem for that Elvis pompadour look.
In between the two tribe were the nameless kids who’s economic standing was somewhere between the families of Socs and the Greasers. We were the nerds, the geeks and socially inept when it came to girls. It is true that one of the most important qualities that can help teens establish their own identities is the ability to “fit in.” Finding friends who understand their problems and relate to them is paramount for teenagers. It wasn’t long until we realized that what we had in common was our interest in doing cool stuff instead of campaigning for popularity at school or smoking in the back of the school. We created our own tribe and we called ourselves “The GTO’s, Order of the Pythons” .
From 1964 to 1968 we produced movies using our parents Bell and Howell movie cameras. At first, we filmed our friends acting goofy around the house and favorite hang outs -that was in the 8th grade. By the 9th grade we were charging kids 50 cents to be in our movies and they didn’t just hang out at the parents’ house anymore. Kids were being blown up, shot at and chased by the bad guys in War movies, Spy movies and even a Roman drama. Growing up in Oklahoma the culture allowed hunting as a normal recreation which gave us access to shotguns, black powder and a great locations. The Verdigris River which is northeast of Tulsa was our favorite location and isolated from civilization and parental control. All the tall guys had to be the bad guys (the Germans) the little guys were the good guys (the Americans). We bought army surplus and dyed the fatigues black and spray painted the helmets and wore them backwards so they would look like German helmets. Once we had a old, gray ’59 Ford station wagon. We painted a couple of swastikas on it, filled the back up with black powder and drove it down the river and blew it up. We did this until we graduated from Will Rogers High School in 1968. Needless to say, we went our separate ways pursuing a life outside of Tulsa.
In 2010 as a result of facebook this little band of brothers reestablished the brotherhood -but, not without loss. In May of 2008 Dean Bishop who crated the GTO’s and was our mastermind passed away from cancer – Dean was financially supported and cared for by fellow members Rex and Ricky Gray until his death. Dan Lundy the tallest member of the GTO’s passed away in the mid 90’s from cancer after being exposed to agent orange in Vietnam. The surviving members of the original six GTO’s including myself are: Rex Gray and brother Ricky Gray and Dan Battreall.
I am eternally grateful to my band of brothers for not only giving me wonderful memories but laying the foundation for the career I enjoy today.
After a midnight shoot at The House of Blues in Hollywood. I packed up my camera gear and headed back to my car parked on Sunset Boulevard. Just a block away, I came upon the Saint of Sunset sitting on a small swatch of old red carpeting with his back resting against a chain link fence. As I approached he looked up and with bright eyes and a smile he said, “Good evening my friend.” “And a good evening to you my friend and how is life treating you this fine evening?” I asked. “Better now that you are here”, he said, “would you like a blessing?” “yes indeed,” I replied. Closing his eyes the Saint bowed his head whispering, “My friend and I are but actors in a theatre called earth, our stage is small but it is here where we rehears our play of life before the curtain closes. Blessings my friend.”