By Ewelina Lepionko
Kiana Hayeri captures the changes across Afghanistan as a generation born under relative freedom faces a future under Taliban control.
Kiana was born in 1988. She grew up in Tehran, Iran, and migrated to Toronto as a teenager. She has worked internationally but remained focus on stories that illuminate her background. Her self-initiated and self-funded projects often explore complex topics such as migration, adolescence, and sexuality in war-torn or post-conflict countries.
"It's heartbreaking talking to people I'm close to. The fear they're experiencing, especially for a few women that I know there that I’ve worked with is huge."
She is a Senior TED Fellow and a regular contributor to The New York Times. Her work has appeared in Harper's Magazine, Foreign Policy, Washington Post, NPR, Monocle Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, The Globe, and Mail, among others. Kiana has lived in Kabul for the past seven years.
Photography provided a way to bridge the challenging gap in language and culture as she adapted to her new environment. On her Instagram, she shares bits and pieces of daily life as she travels, explores, and tells stories.
“I am a visual storyteller who is interested in the unseen and humane side of a conflict, a perception and viewpoint often missed in mainstream media.”
Kabul is her home. But on Sunday, August 15, the day the Taliban seized Kabul and the Afghan government fell, Hayeri had to evacuate. Even though she left Kabul on the day the Taliban took over, the Iranian-Canadian journalist is still very much involved in the events there.
I don't think any camera would have ever been able to capture it even if you had the time and peace of mind to stay and shoot. It was the fear, it was a vibe, it was the air. Everyone was just really scared.
She first came to Afghanistan in 2013. She was trying to make a break into this industry—in Iran but it was very difficult. Usually, she is covering the actual war when I'm on assignment. But the stories that really matter to her are the stories of people, human stories because that's what puts a face to something.
I think the fact that I speak the language and blend in gives me access that a lot of people don't have. I'm able to go into somebody's house and stay there for half a day, sometimes 24 hours, without needing anyone else with me. I'm a woman, so I can walk into pretty much all of the rooms in a house and take photos when I can. That has been very, very crucial to the work I produce.
Afghanistan strips her down to the basics, stripping away many choices and options. It’s also true for your emotions. The emotions that people experience there are so raw and so basic, and it's beautiful.
"It's something I've never experienced anywhere else. Even friendships are very raw, very solid, especially with Afghan friends".
She tries to don’t take a lot of crazy risks. But one thing she is careful with is her mental health. Nowadays she can see how slowly she is sinking into darkness, and that is one thing she needs to be careful with.
One of the reasons I call myself a visual storyteller is because if you remove me from Afghanistan, I’m still able to do my work. I’m still able to tell stories through photographs.
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