When photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli and writer Francesca Recchia started making The Little Book of Kabul — a crowd-funded work chronicling the lives of artists in the Afghan capital — they weren’t sure what they wanted it to look like. But they were definitely sure what they didn’t want it to portray.

“One of the things that we didn’t want was an exotic dimension,” says Recchia, an independent researcher and writer. “An ‘Oh my God, you work in Kabul!’ moment.”

And what is an “Oh my God” moment? Think visual and written tropes often present in Western coverage of life in Afghanistan, they say: images of battle-ravaged towns or descriptions of foreign troops patrolling desolate landscapes.

This book, they hoped, would be a little different.

“It was important to navigate around the idea of cliches,” says Tugnoli, a freelance photojournalist who often works for The Wall Street Journal. “Working in country like Afghanistan as a photographer, if I [produced] a book focusing on stereotypes, it would be a failure.”

Having lived in Kabul for three years, the two were familiar with its community of artists, one struggling to preserve a sense of normality on a day-to-day basis. They wanted to look at how these artists worked in the lead up to the 2014 transition — in which responsibility for security in Afghanistan is being transferred from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to the Afghan National Security Forces.

And so Tugnoli and Recchia embedded themselves with local bands such as Kabul Dreams, and with actors, art students and skaters; becoming, they say, a part of the community.

What emerged was a book telling the story of local creatives through a series of Tugnoli’s images juxtaposed with Recchia’s reporting. The finished work is small in size, they add, because they wanted The Little Book to be an accessible, yet in-depth, document of a constantly-evolving community.

“It wasn’t a matter of interviewing someone or taking a picture and then leaving,” Recchia says,”it’s really quite an intimate perspective on people’s lives.”

Lorenzo Tugnoli is a photographer who has been published in The Wall Street Journal and Francesca Recchia is an independent researcher and writer. Read more about The Little Book of Kabul.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

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