February 10, 2013

Hilariously or Just Sincerely Tragic: Closing Scenes from America's Afghan War

Reflecting the illogic and futility of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the best photography from both campaigns has been journalistic on one level and deeply ironic on the other. We saw that early on with the work of Christoph Bangert and Ashley Gilbertson (1, 2). We can also see it over the past few weeks in the work of the fine young newswire photographer, Andrew Burton.

Macho, playful or just cinematic, Burton’s photos from this Reuters embed are just too innocent, too uncomplicated to be taken at face value. And that’s what makes them so smart.

Andrew Burton Afghanistan Jan 2013  2
In the most obvious example, a photo dearly tempting parody, we see an American soldier bench pressing an Afghan counterpart. With our impending departure, what’s laughable, if it wasn’t tragic and disastrous, is the fact that the Afghan military is only viable to the extent we lift them up. Did anyone say “dead weight”?

Andrew Burton Afghanistan Jan 2013  2

In a variation, the message here is that Afghan policemen can’t compare in strength to the potent American soldiers but we’re sorta making it look like they are, like they could maybe win.

Andrew Burton Afghanistan Jan 2013 3

Call it killing an IED. This is classic for the degree of badass, and paradox — for the other two soldiers in repose. It’s like, what happened behind us?

But, if there is a Hollywood–worthy closing image to the Afghan campaign (rich stimulus for the third installment of a Hurt Locker, Zer0 Dark 30 trilogy), it’s the one a the top of this post. Of course, Burton’s shot is fabulous newswire fodder as just another day’s grinding slice-of-life in country, a gorgeous composition of the daily weapon inventory secured. With the knowledge that America’s days on the scene are numbered, however, the other reading here is that, with the weapons laid down, we’re just about out the door.

(photos: Andrew Burton/Reuters caption 1: A soldier from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry leaves a room while checking the inventory of weapons at Strong Point DeMaiwand, Maywand District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, January 20, 2013. caption 2: A soldier with the U.S. Army’s Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment bench-presses an Afghan National Army soldier before a patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a nearby village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province on Jan. 24, 2013. caption 3: BROTHERS IN ARMS: A U.S. Army soldier and a member of the Afghan Uniform Police arm-wrestled before going out on a joint patrol in the Maiwand district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province. caption 4: Members of the U.S. Army survey the horizon after an improvised explosive device attack during a patrol outside Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a nearby village) in Afghanistan on Jan. 28, 2013. No one was killed in the attack.)

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Michael Shaw
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