It was an ordinary day in Kabul and Sandra Calligaro, who had called the city home since 2007, decided to go shopping. She got in her car and drove to the supermarket, which is mostly frequented by expats, international workers and Afghans from the diaspora. As she walked up and down the aisles with her cart, she noticed something unusual: for the first time, there were ordinary Afghans shopping alongside her. “I asked myself, who are these people?” she explains. “This was a social class that had appeared in front of my eyes. It was the reflection of the city’s evolution.” For Calligaro, that day marked the beginning of a longterm photography project about Kabul’s middle class, a product of Western presence in Afghanistan that grew from basically zero in 2001 to about 10-15% of the country’s population today. Her upcoming book, Afghan Dream, shows her adopted city the way she talks about it with her family back home, not how it’s portrayed in much of the Western media. It shows her neighbors, her coworkers, her friends—all part of a new group of Afghans who are also part of the story of the impossible reconstruction of a city torn by a decade of conflict. She joined R&K from Paris.
R&K: When did you first visit Afghanistan?
Calligaro: It was a bit randomly actually. I studied art and photography, not journalism, but when I discovered photography I decided to become a reporter. At the end of my studies, I had a journalist friend who was supposed to return to Afghanistan to finish a documentary. I asked him to take me with him and he said no, but that I should go on my own. I didn’t know much about Afghanistan, but I left on a whim with all my preconceived ideas and my prejudices. I hadn’t planned to stay that long, just a month, and then I was hoping to go somewhere else after. But once I got there, the country amazed me. I didn’t expect to like it really, because from here we always see such a horrible image of Afghanistan. I ended up staying two months. I went back to France and quickly found an excuse to go again. After that second time, I got an assignment to go back a third time, which is when I moved there. It might sound strange, but I liked the fact that everything worked the opposite way of what I was used to and at the same time, I didn’t feel disoriented. I fit in pretty quickly and it all seemed quite natural actually.