William Vázquez is an advertising, portrait & documentary photographer based in New York, USA.

Afghanistan 2006

10 years ago I was asked to go to Afghanistan for a Abbott a commercial client. They wanted to document the work an NGO (Afghan Institute of Learning) that they supported was doing in Afghanistan. I was excited and honestly very worried. I had never been in an active war zone. Although it can be argued that growing up in NYC in the 70's qualifies as a war zone. Particularly in the neighborhoods I lived in. Needless to say my wife was not to happy. I was a father with two young children and the chances of something happening to you are high. Not to mention there were other issues. Number one being that this was my first job for them. Also it was more like documentary photography which was a departure from what my work at that time which was commercial portraits with lighting etc. So lots of things to consider. Of course I said yes! I never turn down an opportunity to be challenged and of course travel.

I started doing the research I needed to make the trip happen. Visas, travel, local customs, on the ground conditions, and connecting with the in country organization that I was going to work with. Luckily I had great support from my clients, and I already had lots of travel experience to lean on. It is one of the defining moments in my career as an artist and a person. It has led me to all sorts of new opportunities and people.  All I had to do what take a leap into the unknown.

This project helped with my perspective of how I see the world and photograph it. Thoughts I live by in my day to day.

  • I want my photos to be beautiful
  • I want to show the best of humanity
  • I portray people with dignity

This photo is one I took while I was at a clinic outside of Kabul with the most amazing Afghani woman. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi. She is a force of nature and I am lucky to have spent some time with her. Normally women in Afghanistan cover themselves from head to toe in Burkas. Behind walls they can a little more relaxed with that. Although if a man is around they normally stay covered up. So being basically an alien from another planet in a place like Afghanistan some of those rules don't apply to me. She was sitting waiting her turn to see the doctor, and we stopped to talk to her. Well I spoke through Sakena. She had pulled her burka over her head in a relaxed way, but covered her face a bit with her hand so I could really see her fully. I would ask questions like what she was doing there, how was she feeling, about her family etc. As we spoke I set up my Speed Graphic 4x5 camera, and started taking some photos. I really wanted to see her smile, but she would not drop her hand, and was very serious. As we spoke I took a few shots I tried a few words in Farsi the local language and she found that very amusing, she smiled behind her hand, and I clicked the shutter. Then she had put her hand down and had graced me with a beautiful smile. Wow what a privilege!!  These are the moments I live for. I ended up only taking a few photos of her and the photo stars were in alignment that I had captured what I was looking for. It wasn't used by the client but it was more for me anyway.

Tech specs

  • 1960's era Speed Graphic view camera
  • 150 mm Schneider lens
  • Type 55 Polaroid film (sadly, extinct now killed by the digital revolution)