March 10, 2013

Yuri Kozyrev from Afghanistan: The U.S. Fade

I thought I might spend a couple posts on Yuri Kozyrev’s fine photos from Afghanistan. What makes them so noteworthy — going beyond one more project framing the impending American withdrawal — is how the pictures are so irony-free and display a style so unique to themselves. I wanted to talk geometry, and then toning.

What’s intriguing is the way the soldiers up top move in a circular fashion right to left, while several of the soldiers down below, aided by the shadows, seem to move in an opposite circle. The first time I saw it I immediately thought of this:

Of course, Escher’s ascending and descending drawing is a lot more ordered while in the photo, the shadows play tricks. Symbolically, though, what is so rich about Kosyrev’s image is how it reflects the American military dance, not as a matter of winning or losing so much as an endless, almost circular ritual of comings and goings.

As highly stylized strategies of contrast, saturation and hue seem here to stay, I’m mostly interested is when and specifically how that conditioning informs the content as opposed to when it overshadows or runs away with it.

I’m particular drawn to in the effect in the Lighbox edit. In several photos, there is a slightly washed out (or “cool-to-cold”) shading, especially of the blues and reds. You can see the quality in the photo TIME led off with. More evocative in my mind, however, is #11 above. Besides the fact the American war mission has been largely reduce to managing storage lockers (and yes, this conjures the morgue, as well), the coloration captures the sense of an initiative that lost its vibrancy, its electricity long ago.

Now, I’m not assuming Yuri had this in mind at all, but I’m certainly curious how that tonal strategy relates to America’s previously burning patriotic and nationalistic fires. Specifically, I look at the combination of those red and blue storage containers set against the white snow (and grey-white sky) and I can’t help thinking that if the red, white and blue doesn’t run, it sure can fade.

(photos: Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME. caption 1: Paratroopers from Bull Battery, 4-319th Airborne Field Artillery Battalion line up for their final unit photo before leaving Afghanistan for their home base in Germany. The traditional unit picture is often one of the last events before soldiers leave a combat zone. Bull Battery has served a nine-month combat tour in eastern Afghanistan. caption 2: First Lieut. Henry Chan of the 18th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion opens containers to find out what is inside at a container yard at Bagram.)

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Michael Shaw
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