Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Zalmaï left the country after the Soviet invasion in 1980. He traveled to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he became a Swiss citizen. Following his passion for Photography, which he discovered very early in life, Zalmaï pursued combined studies at both the School of Photography of Lausanne and at the Professional Photography Training Center of Yverdon. In 1989, he began to work as a freelance photographer, traveling around the world from Indonesia to Egypt, from Cuba to the Central African Republic, and eventually returned to Afghanistan, where he continues documenting the ongoing war and plight of the Afghan people.
Zalmaï has spent most of his life between Europe, and Asia. His work has been published in several magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, Le Temps, Newsweek, and La Repubblica, while he has worked for a number of International Organizations and NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Office On Drug and Crime, and the UN Refugee Agency. He has exhibited around the world at museums, galleries, universities and cultural centers and his work has earned him several international awards, the latest being the Visa D'Or from the Visa Pour l'Image International Photojournalism Festival and a grant by Getty Images.