More interesting work from Kevin Frayer cropped up yesterday at The Guardian: a series of 10 frank black-and-white portraits of Afghan National Army soldiers based in the southwest.
What’s significant about these soldiers is that none of them are actually from the southwest, a detail that has MSNBC (where the same photos are shown, in smaller scale) calling them “foreigners.” It’s jarring to consider that, in ethnically divided Afghanistan, you can be an Afghan and yet a foreigner in your own country.
For some, these photos will serve as further proof that the war in Afghanistan is hopeless, that the West can never win. But the truth, I think, is more complex. Neither the existing government nor the Taliban actually enjoys much support in the south-west, at least according to the only opinion polls available. The Taliban never controlled the country, either. In fact, Afghanistan has been continually at war with itself for thirty years, for reasons that have, for the most part, absolutely nothing to do with the lives of most of the people caught up in the war zone. This war was on before we got there, and it will continue after we leave. It’s not that the West can never win; no one can, least of all the Afghan people.
Among Frayer’s portraits, I like the two soldiers hiding behind their sunglasses best of all. Those sunglasses, both as barrier between the soldier and his environment, and a symbol of Western cool, make explicit the gulf that lies between Afghanistan’s warlords and the bulk of the people they claim to represent.
Kudos for Canadian photojournalist Kevin Frayer appear on the NYT Lens blog:
Seven months ago, Santiago Lyon, the director of photography at The Associated Press, described Kevin Frayer as a game changer, meaning that “within hours of his arrival on any major story, his photos jump off the screen and immediately give us a competitive edge.” You have only to look at Slide 1 to know that Mr. Frayer is back in Afghanistan.
I think that recognition is well deserved. I first noticed Frayer back in May, 2000, when he was covering the Walkerton crisis. His tightly-cropped photo of five-year-old Tamara Smith clutching her teddy bear as she was wheeled out to the air ambulance ran on the front page of every newspaper I saw. It was the first picture to put a human face on the crisis, and you can see it at CTV’s “Decade of Canada“—it’s the third frame.
Note also Frayer’s shots of a Canadian sniper in Afghanistan (frame eight) and a man outside Womens’ College Hostpital during the SARS outbreak (frame 12). The latter may seem to be a mere snapshot at first glance, but notice the careful framing. Frayer has made sure that the signs to each side of his subject are legible, giving the photo context and obviating the need for a caption. It goes to show that, when the easy shots are people wearing facemasks, you can still rise above the crowd.