Ways of Seeing Afghanistan

One of the more fascinating features of the Guardian online over the past few months has been the regular contributions of photojournalist John D. McHugh. McHugh is spending 6 months with the US 173rd Airborne in Afghanistan (it’s his third “tour” in Afghanistan – what a way to make a living). McHugh’s work is insightful and moving, and I hope he gains some recognition for it.

Despite being embedded with an American military unit, McHugh’s photos and stories comes across as stark and factual, and are all the more engaging because they effectively communicate some of the grim reality of war for the Afghan people as well as the western soldiers stationed there.

McHugh makes a honest attempt to remain objective, whether he is documenting the days of boredom and minutes of terror for soldiers sitting in a mountain outpost, or the real communication challenges faced by local Afghan citizens and US soldiers.

McHugh’s approach to war journalism is an interesting contrast to the recent coverage by NBC, whose camera team was in-and-out of the country in one week, (they were heading onwards to Baghdad). and whose presence may have contributed to the friendly-fire death of a US soldier.

Violin Soldier

Photo by Violinsoldier

But perhaps some of the most insightful images of the Afghanistan conflict have been taken by soldiers themselves. Violinsoldier’s images on Flickr are a fascinating mix of beauty and mundanity: photos of his MRE meal-packs sit next to candid snaps of local people taken while on patrol.

Currently the internet provides ready access to a western view on this conflict. Hopefully in the long term (if you believe the debatable supposition that the situation in Afghanistan can be improved), more local voices and images will be seen and heard around the world.