Photography in Afghanistan
July 9, 2012 5:47 PM   Subscribe

Alex Jansen is a lieutenant in the US Army currently deployed in Afghanistan. He is embedded as a liaison officer working with and training the Afghan National Army. He's been taking photos of his experiences and posting them on the Pentax forums, offering a different view of the life of soldiers in Afghanistan. Forum posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

As a bonus Jansen has posted a video showing why he uses Pentax cameras in Afghan conditions: the dust and water sealing
posted by jontyjago (44 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love 4.
posted by Mblue at 5:52 PM on July 9, 2012


Wow, these are stunning. Some quick favorites if anyone wants a sample of how high quality these are:
View of landscape with transport plane
Qalats from above
Afghan army kitchen
Afghani soldiers maintaining their gear
After a fire in camp

Thanks a ton for posting.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:55 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a great set of images, as well as being the poster child for my personal assertion that if you are a young, idealistic, aspiring professional photojournalist, you are pretty much f**ked.

There is no substitute for access and the ability to run a camera well.

Kudos to the photographer.
posted by imjustsaying at 6:01 PM on July 9, 2012


Life Inside Little America in Afghanistan: Photos from a time when tiki bars and afternoons at the pool dominated the lives of Americans in Afghanistan.
posted by homunculus at 6:12 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Giant (Upcycled) Metal Creatures in Afghanistan
posted by homunculus at 6:14 PM on July 9, 2012


Thanks for this. This is definitely a perspective I had not seen before.
posted by Scientist at 6:17 PM on July 9, 2012


These are cool. Thanks for posting them.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:42 PM on July 9, 2012


Great photos. However, I'm really shocked that people are still sharing photos on old school bulletin boards!
posted by COD at 6:52 PM on July 9, 2012


From Update #2:

"So it seems that decorating water trucks is a national obsession. Some of these things truly deserve to be preserved as works of art."



Awesome.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:17 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah".

I think the series is inspired, but I'm disgusted by a single photo and caption.
posted by vozworth at 7:17 PM on July 9, 2012


//Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah". //

Do you feel the same way about a US Armored vehicle brandishing "In Jesus We Trust?"
posted by COD at 7:20 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


The photos following that (page 7) all seem to show Afghan soldiers anyway, so I think it's quite probable thats an Afghani vehicle (possible made/donated by the US to the Afghan army, don't recognize the vehicle type).
posted by wildcrdj at 7:30 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


These photos are consistently awesome. Thanks for posting them!

Great photos. However, I'm really shocked that people are still sharing photos on old school bulletin boards!

PentaxForums is actually pretty terrific. Friendly, knowledgable, geeky, unpretentious, and enthusiastic.

His video showing off Pentax's weather-sealing is pretty fun. The sand makes me cringe just looking at it.

Additionally, I'd like to point out that that forum member once wrote a funny-but-informative guide to shooting long exposure handhelds. It's a pity, though, that the images appear to no longer be hosted - it was pretty funny showing him with his butt hanging out, Stimpy-style, to keep himself steady, but doggone it if that technique doesn't actually work.

(Perhaps the most impressive thing of all is the fact that he found a perfectly good copy of the DA* 16-50. WONH WONH)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:34 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are fantastic. Thank you.
posted by rtha at 7:37 PM on July 9, 2012


//Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah". //

Do you feel the same way about a US Armored vehicle brandishing "In Jesus We Trust?"


I don't know about vozworth, but I certainly do. That picture also bothered me.

Great post though, nice photos.
posted by Malice at 7:37 PM on July 9, 2012


Here is another photo of an Afghan National Army soldier manning a turret with what appears to be part of a HESCO barrier for shade. The mounted gun in series 7 looks like a .50 cal M2.

Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah".

I completely agree. What lets you know it is a US vehicle?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:42 PM on July 9, 2012


I'm a little confused by the placement of "Masha'Allah" on the vehicle. Is it supposed to mean that Allah was the one who brought the U.S. to the area?

Because if so, yuck, but I'd really expect nothing less from the American armed forces.
posted by item at 7:44 PM on July 9, 2012


Do you feel the same way about a US Armored vehicle brandishing "In Jesus We Trust?"

Claro que si. Of course, thats yes. Want it in Hindi script?
posted by vozworth at 7:45 PM on July 9, 2012


Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah".

It's not a US armored vehicle, and the guy writing that is wearing Afghan fatigues.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:52 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Thanks, monkey. That was my first thought on seeing the pic.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:59 PM on July 9, 2012


Brandishing? Slightly ominous phrasing (but that is ok, for if you believed that was American Heavy, then yeah, full agreement, not appropriate behavior).

But it seems readily apparent that this is not what that picture is, it is labeled by the photographer as an ANA vehicle with 'Masha'Allah', and clearly appears to be an ANA uniformed person doing the writing... so... in that case, so long as it fits in the code of conduct for the ANA, it is hard to see how such a message is "disgusting" (that is unless you are disgusted by the religion, or those who believe [which, as noted variously, Isa phrase used by Christians in the Middle East, along with many other groups of varied 'faith labels' around the world]).

By eyeballing, it appears to be one of the many variants of the Navistar International MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle
Note: "Navistar also has provided more than 8,100 International® 7000 Series vehicles to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

posted by infinite intimation at 8:04 PM on July 9, 2012


This picture shows a model with a similar 'canopy' thing over the turret, as in the photo-set.
posted by infinite intimation at 8:09 PM on July 9, 2012


#15 in the last update is gorgeous.
posted by rtha at 8:16 PM on July 9, 2012


Claro que si. Of course, thats yes. Want it in Hindi script

How about Dari, yaar?
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:21 PM on July 9, 2012


I actually thought that it was a tad overwrought, rtha. Which I also thought was curiously humanizing of the photographer, actually. Here's a guy who's doing something so alien to me, and also difficult and dangerous and no doubt often very unpleasant, and in between photographing all the really impressive and intense things that are going on around him, and documenting some very astute (if at times also very to-me alien) insights on the incredibly complex and deeply fucked situation all around him, he stops to take some slightly-cliché strobe pictures of his friend smoking a cigar in the dark.

It reminds you that the person behind the camera is not a professional photojournalist or some dispassionate, disembodied camera but rather a young, idealistic soldier who's out in the world doing what he certainly seems to think is Good Works. It's an odd moment in the series, the moreso because that sub-series is the end of the last (so far) update.
posted by Scientist at 8:52 PM on July 9, 2012


Afgan tradition or not, no US armored vehicles should be brandishing "Masha'Allah".
I think the series is inspired, but I'm disgusted by a single photo and caption.


Before this goes any further I want to be very clear about three things:

1) the photographer who posted the photos is assigned to a unit which is training the ANA. you can see this if you look through all of his photos and descriptions.

2) very large numbers of humvees have been donated to the ANA.

3) the humvee in question that somebody has painted "masha allah" on is almost certainly one that belongs to the ANA. considering that they have a 25% per year attrition rate due to poor living conditions, high danger and poor salaries, anything that improves ANA morale is useful. you're complaining that they've painted a religious message on a vehicle that the ANA now owns?

disclaimer: I've spend between 3 to 4 cumulative years living and working in Afghanistan. Do some research before you spout off about how you're so offended next time.
posted by thewalrus at 8:53 PM on July 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


I wonder if there isn't a language or culture barrier, where some see it as this simplistic slogan, easily translated, with one, simplistic, three word translation of meaning, summed up in three words, when in reality it is a surficial semiotic to a much more complex, greater meaning than any one sect can claim. A meaning not simply 'converted' purely in the English phrase "by the will of [implied, 'my'] God".

Survival in any war is a privilege (those with the most, are behind metres of concrete and steel, those with less are the occupied people of the world), survival is not a certainty, Masha'Allah is
"an Arabic phrase that expresses appreciation, joy, praise or thankfulness for an event or person that was just mentioned.[1] Towards this, it is used as an expression of respect, while at the same time serving as a reminder that all accomplishments"
... are not just becuase of the "superiority" of the individual with good fortune, but the complex result of uncountable factors completely outside a persons control (like, say, the type of armoured vehicle one is inside when a mine explodes, or who one counts as an ally).

It is a reminder of privilege, not to be prideful, or arrogant. Many folks seem to be reading it as precisely the opposite of this... as an arrogant "ME ME ME" message or slogan.

As it is an MRAP (mine resistant [where many are not, and many die daily, merely for being in a lesser vehicle]), it can easily be read as invoking a conception much like this signature does (here is a vehicle which saved lives, and this is our marking to denote our fortune in this time of violence and death around us), describing the lives of those inside which were not lost, owing purely to the unique characteristics of such an armoured vehicle, and to no specialness within me, or my surviving compatriots. Those who died were as deserving of life as those who survived, yet events must unfold in one or another manner, what will be will be.

The "arrogant" interpretation sounds like those folks who nattered on after Katrina, pridefully ascribing the destruction to absurd interpretations and denigration of 'others'.

We can debate morality and philosophy of war and peace but lives saved from IED, or other attack are fortunate. And I (personally) would not sanction the further policing of the people brave enough to suit up in ANA colours, I will not denigrate their sacrifice, nor faith, their gratitude, or chosen symbolic sign of thanks for the fortune of survival amidst the deaths of so many compatriots.
They are not "fighting to eradicate Islam"... they are fighting to ensure their Islamic nation survives, and possibly, one day, thrives.

Would the women and slogans drawn on bombers as luck charms, prayers for survival and fortune, symbolic morale boosts during WWII be considered equally disgusting? Or is it purely the perceived message invoked?

I think it is ok (though obviously I don't conceive of it as such a simplistic message as to be reduced to 'sloganeering').
posted by infinite intimation at 8:55 PM on July 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


also, fresh from the oven Afghan bread is incredibly tasty. the round ones he's posted photos of are known as "naan uzbeki" because they're more common in the north. The really long bread is a bit thinner but incredibly good when warm. Also, all Afghan vegetables taste significantly much better than their grocer store counterparts in the US/Canada. When you eat something with a tomato sauce, or an eggplant, you really taste it. Pretty much everything is grown on small farms in an organic labor intensive way. The pomegranates are fucking amazing.
posted by thewalrus at 8:57 PM on July 9, 2012


Seriously, the Pentax K-5 is one HECK of a camera. Still (arguably) the finest APS-C camera you can buy. Superb high ISO performance, the ability to snap on manual focus lenses back to the mid-70s (allowing one to play with dozens of lenses for the price of one Canikon lens) and even classic Takumars (and lesser m42 lenses) with an adapter AND get in-body image stabilization with every one of them (as opposed to paying for image stabilization over and over again with each lens)... Makes Pentax the thinking man's choice in crop sensor DSLRs. If you are on a budget, snag a K-x and you too will be hooked.

Compare the Pentax K-5 ( or the new K-30 ) and you'll see that you have to spend 3x the money to beat it. http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Camera-Sensor-Database/Pentax/K5
posted by spock at 9:01 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Welcome to Afghanistan's Green Zone: In the Panjshir Valley, locals eke out a rough living mining emeralds by hand.
posted by homunculus at 9:07 PM on July 9, 2012


"an Arabic phrase that expresses appreciation, joy, praise or thankfulness for an event or person that was just mentioned.[1] Towards this, it is used as an expression of respect, while at the same time serving as a reminder that all accomplishments"

You can find MASHA ALLAH painted on the fronts and sides of buses, cargo trucks and other vehicles literally everywhere in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sometimes even in huge English stick on letters.
posted by thewalrus at 9:08 PM on July 9, 2012


Since it seems to be Afghanistan Photo Day, here's some of my own photos from the general vicinity of the now-destroyed giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan.
posted by thewalrus at 9:19 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I actually thought that it was a tad overwrought, rtha.

I can see that, yeah. I loved it in particular for his camera geekery overy it - none of which I really understood, but which put it in the context of "fucking around with new toy parts - what will happen?" rather than "look at my Meaningful Photograph."
posted by rtha at 9:24 PM on July 9, 2012


Yeah, exactly. He was basically just a regular guy geeking out with his camera who also happened to be a minor officer in the US Army working in Afghanistan, teaching Afghani soldiers how to search for mines and IEDs. The fact that he's obviously not a pro photographer (though he's clearly a very enthusiastic hobbyist) makes the sets better, not worse. If they'd been more polished they wouldn't have had the same effect on me.
posted by Scientist at 10:02 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the series is inspired, but I'm disgusted by a single photo and caption.

Just translate it as "Born to Kill" and you should feel right at home.

Great post, BTW.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:40 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


offering a different view of the life of soldiers in Afghanistan

different from what? different than this?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 10:44 PM on July 9, 2012


"Masha'Allah" is a pretty typical sticker/slogan on every vehicle in Islamic countries...
posted by iamck at 10:48 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wonderful!
posted by caddis at 4:41 AM on July 10, 2012


Many thanks, great pictures to ponder.
posted by incandissonance at 6:35 AM on July 10, 2012


Yep you say mashalllah when someone has a grand child or passes their driving test or gets a new job. It's a cross between mazel tov and my username.
posted by By The Grace of God at 12:35 PM on July 10, 2012


I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who took the time to correct my knee-jerk reaction to an armored vehicle that is designed to not only cut a human being in half, shoot down a helicopter/drone/airplane, dismantle a bunker of insurgents, straif a crowded square of rioters, but also deliver this message with a poignant tender heartfelt message.

Cheers mate, here's to tradition.
posted by vozworth at 6:34 PM on July 10, 2012


So the answer is 'nothing,' I take it?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:54 PM on July 10, 2012


For those who were wondering which photo the debate has been about, here you go. It's in update #7.
posted by SMPA at 12:48 PM on July 13, 2012


Killing of Afghan woman for adultery provokes Kabul protests: Execution-style killing, caught on video, condemned by president, the US embassy and top Nato commander
posted by homunculus at 11:17 PM on July 13, 2012


« Older Last night at TNA iMPACT Wrestling's annual Destin...  |  Photographer Ann Marsden... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments