2022 Feature, Large Newsroom finalist

Portraits of fear and loss


About the Project

The Taliban returned to power, and women who once showed up to protest disappeared from the streets, one by one. The Taliban returned to power, and stacks of books gave way to cooking supplies. The Taliban returned to power, and classrooms full of young girls in colorful fabrics became empty and dark.

Women were again forced into the background, particularly those living in urban areas who had seen the most improvements to their lives. They were not keen to show their face, to be photographed, for fear they and their families would face punishment.

“Portraits of fear and loss” is an immersive animated experience that follows Taliban rule through the eyes of four Shiite Afghan women — Sajida, K, Pahlawan and Aliya — whose full names were withheld amid fears for their safety.

Reporters Ruby Mellen and Loveday Morris stayed in touch with the women over four months with weekly phone calls and regular WhatsApp messages. The illustrations, created in Photoshop and animated with After Effects, are based on photos and videos shared by the women.

“We had hope for the future before, but now it is all disappointment,” said Sajida, 23, a university student in Kabul who dreamed of becoming a business executive. Those dashed dreams are illustrated throughout the piece, seamlessly meshing with the reader’s experience.

The visuals, woven with evocative narratives of each woman’s changed life, conjoin the intimate nature of their individual experiences with the distanced impulse to remain unidentifiable to the new regime.

Through hours of interviews, moving illustrations and poignant animation, “Portraits of fear and loss” gives our audience an up-close look into a world that is now difficult to see.