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QALAM NABI  

"Five hundred people! Between the morning and evening! Five hundred people!" Qalam Nabi boasts.

Qalam Nabi, 44, is one of the last two remaining kamra-e-faoree photographers working on a daily basis in Kabul.

He is fast at his job, and he knows it.

His father, Abdul, also a kamra-e-faoree photographer taught him the trade; and he had to learn fast - if he made a mistake he got a beating. For many years both father and son worked alongside one other until a year or two ago his father finally gave up working when his eyesight began to weaken.

Nabi has worked uninterrupted from the same spot since he started - almost.

The Taliban put a brief halt to proceedings in the '90s when they passed an edict initially banning all photography, though finally they relented after a few months and allowed identity photographs - meaning kamra-e-faoree photographers were back in business.

One morning as we watched Qalam Nabi work, an aged woman arrived at his spot. She was clutching a small black and white photograph in her hand.

The woman wanted a copy of the photo for some bank papers, she said, as she thrust out her hand for Nabi to take the image. But the bank wouldn't accept a black and white copy, Nabi told her. Yet she persisted, and he started to make two copies.

While he did so, she told us her story.

Her name was Shogul from Laghman; the image she was holding was of her deceased husband, Omar.

Shogul wanted the copies made so she could get the small government pension she was entitled to after her husband had passed away. He used to work as a government official until he died suddenly in a plane crash on his way to pay government salaries in the provinces. It was 1983. The Mujahedin were fighting the communist government, and the plane would have been considered a target. It just disappeared around Ghazni, whether by foul play or because it accidentally crashed into a mountain, nobody knows.

At the time she had three children aged five years, three years, and ten months. Two years ago while her youngest child was trying to reach Europe for a better life his boat capsized off the Greek coast, but he survived, and now he's back in Afghanistan and newly married with a child.

By the time Shogul had finished her story, Nabi had her photos ready. He's very fast.

UPDATE: In May 2012 Qalam Nabi was no longer working at his pitch. He has reportedly moved to London, and was tired of working with the box camera.