In both the popular and historical imagination, Afghanistan has been a country caught in a loop of repeated invasions, war, and fractured identity, at the mercy of whoever is occupying it at the moment.
Frame by Frame, about a post-Soviet, post-U.S., post–9-11, and Taliban Afghanistan, is fraught with the weight of history but utterly of and about this moment. Co-directed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli, the documentary captures something of the perilous existence of Afghan photographers as it follows Farzana Wahidy, Massoud Hossaini, Najibullah Musafer, and Wakil Kohsar on their mission to document an Afghanistan far more complex than outsiders (and even many Afghans) are wont to admit.
As a woman whose subject is women, Wahidy has a level of access forbidden to men, and she is painfully aware of her responsibilities. Her images of women boxers in training are both thrilling and subversive, and she’s received death threats for her work. The work of Kohsar, in terms of composition, lighting, and that indefinable thing that makes great art resonate, might be the most consistently beautiful and harrowing — especially the latter, as when he snaps a roadside cluster of poor male drug addicts getting high. One tells him, “This is my life, but death is better.”
Bombach and Scarpelli prove just as formally and aesthetically daring as their subjects, with some of their own shots (a group of young boys playing tag on an earthen roof) being as breathtaking as those of the photographers they’re following. Frame by Frame is informative, revelatory, and full of astonishing photography.
Frame by Frame
Directed by Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli
Opens November 20, IFC Center
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 17, 2015