Thinking Images v.11: Kevin Frayer’s aerial view of Afghanistan


Different perspectives on the landscape of war in Afghanistan do exist. Two weeks ago The Frame (the photo blog of Californian newspaper The Sacramento Bee) published “Helmand Province from above,” nineteen black and white images from Kevin Frayer.

Kevin Frayer is a Canadian photojournalist currently working as the Associated Press Chief Photographer for South Asia. His work on the coal scavengers in Bokapahari, India was featured last week in The Guardian’s series “From the Agencies,” and demonstrates the skills of contemporary news agency photographers.

Frayer made the Helmand images this January while flying in a US Army medevac helicopter. The aerial view has historically been associated with a military perspective, particularly in the form of surveillance, but Frayer’s photographs show a range of scenes as the aircraft flies overhead, some of them featuring daily life, others recording moments of military activity.

Aside from their evident quality, Frayer’s photographs demonstrate that being on a military embed does not require the photographer to record only military subjects. In contrast to the three famous photographers who produced (among other images) very similar pictures of US casualties inside the medevac helicopters, Frayer has trained his lens outside the helicopter in order to take in a wider context by showing ordinary moments of daily life in Helmand.

(For a photographer’s discussion of the ‘medevac story’ phenomena see Daniel Etter’s post at dvafoto. There was an angry response from Louie Palu, one of the three photographers named in the BagNews post on the three similar images, reported in PDN, although his reaction doesn’t diminish Michael Shaw’s original argument about the overall effect of three major publications producing very similar and near simultaneous stories.)

Being black and white, Frayer’s photographs are also interesting in relation to the recent debate over the merits of Damon Winter’s iPhone pictures (which I discussed here, along with the similar imagery of David Guttenfelder). Because of the historical and professional legitimacy of black and white imagery in photojournalism, Frayer’s photographs are unlikely to attract any of the opprobrium directed at Winter, even though they are as unavoidably aesthetic as any photographic image of Afghanistan.

Main photo: In this aerial photo taken 20 January 2011 Afghans play soccer as seen from a medevac helicopter of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Shadow “Dust Off”, Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment near Marjah in the volatile Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan. Kevin Frayer/Associated Press.

3 Responses to “Thinking Images v.11: Kevin Frayer’s aerial view of Afghanistan”

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  2. Zarina Holmes

    Stunning as they are, they do look a little eerie. Very much like surveillance photography images, especially through the absence of colour and distance. The style reminds me of the news-breaking WikiLeaks video “Collateral Murder” in Iraq.

    Sojournposse editor Salina Christmas argued in her article article that viewing the scene in this style is “cinematic”. (Read “Wikileaks: I suppose it’s bloody cinema. But so is satellite imagery” – Perhaps without meaning to, Frayer’s work presents an authoritarian point-of-view of the military. The shadow of the helicopter looks menacing over the villagers. Maybe my eyes are still recovering from the “Collateral Murder” footage.

    Aesthetic success, yes. But I’m not sure some of the images create enough empathy for the situation or the people on the ground.

  3. The Back Catalogue (3): Images of atrocity, conflict and war | David Campbell

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