Postings from Afghanistan: A Kandahar Journal
February 19, 2008 5:45 AM   Subscribe

"My name is Captain Doug MacNair, I coordinate the media embedding program from a desk here in Ottawa... I have embedded more than 250 journalists in our program, and no embed has given me more personal satisfaction than yours... Thanks for being handy with a pencil and a piece of paper. Thanks for writing so well about the things that are hard to draw. Thanks for leaving your family to do an important job. I know how that feels and it’s never easy. Most of all Richard, thanks for risking your life while you do all those things." Q&A with Richard Johnson. Via.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Aziz is six-years-old.

A month ago, on the day I arrived into Kandahar, Aziz was shot twice through the abdomen by coalition forces during a skirmish with the Taliban. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time


...Afghanistan?

His life was saved by the same machinery of war that almost took it.

So, hey, we're even!
posted by regicide is good for you at 6:37 AM on February 19, 2008


OK the guy can draw, but why a pencil and paper artist? Isn't charcoal more appropriate for war? Or why not a watercolor artist? Or a sculptor?

An embedded sculptor would show how morally superior we are!
posted by three blind mice at 7:04 AM on February 19, 2008


Dear LNM...

Before this comments thread gets drowned in the oncoming sea of stupidity the first two comments suggest it may become, thanks so much for this post. Canada has a great tradition of linking artists of high quality to the art of war -- the collection at our National War Museum in Ottawa is outstanding. No less than the soldiers they represent, they are possessed of a rare bravery. (You have to be when what's in your holster is not a pistol but a pencil sharpener.) I really appreciated this post. Thanks a bunch.

Back to the nattering nabobs of negativism (Nod to SA).
posted by Mike D at 7:26 AM on February 19, 2008



June 15th. Tim Horton's Queue.
posted by srboisvert at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2008


"He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time" ...Afghanistan?
Pretty much.
"His life was saved by the same machinery of war that almost took it." So, hey, we're even!
I don't think this is what he was trying to say, regicide. I chalk it up to a moment of bad prose. I think like most embedded journalists, his empathy is with the soldiers, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I didn't take his remark to mean that he thought the war was a good thing for children, or that the kid was better off for having encountered coalition forces. I don't get any "pro-war" vibe at all from it.

Mike D, thanks. I'm not too worried about it-- I doubt there will be a sea of anything, as visual arts posts seldom draw many comments.

I have total respect for what this guy is doing. First of all, I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I dig good sketchbook work and would have found Johnson's work admirable even if the subject matter had been the residents of his hometown. But it isn't just the residents of his home town. My impression is that Afghanistan has been all but forgotten by the public here in the west, so I think the subject matter is important.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 7:55 AM on February 19, 2008


First of all, I know it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I dig good sketchbook work and would have found Johnson's work admirable even if the subject matter had been the residents of his hometown.

But isn't the point of this embedded endeavour is to get you to THINK about the subject matter? To see the subject matter in a new light perhaps?

If the artist can not be entirely transparent on this point, his "art" is just standing in the way.
posted by three blind mice at 8:14 AM on February 19, 2008


I don't see how anyone can be entirely transparent, let alone when you are embroiled in activities that could result in death, including your own.

And I guess I don't understand your arguments, three blind mice. Do you prefer charcoal to pencil? If so, are you basing your condemnation of this artwork on a personal prejudice? Also, I think the 'purpose' of this artwork is to draw your attention to the men and women who are fighting, and I think the artist does it very well.
posted by misha at 8:21 AM on February 19, 2008


My impression of three blind mice's take is that it's silly to send an artist in the first place. That if the work itself is what catches your attention rather than the subject matter then the point is lost. I understand that point of view, though I don't agree with it. I think you can have both-- you can convey facts and emotion together. I guess that can be good or bad depending on whether your message is good or bad.

Though regarding the view that media must be transparent, I would argue it's impossible. Even the most objective journalists offer a viewpoint no matter how much they may try not to. It's a viewpoint which raises the question, what is the point of the arts at all? It's an admittedly tough question to answer.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2008


My impression of three blind mice's take is that it's silly to send an artist in the first place. That if the work itself is what catches your attention rather than the subject matter then the point is lost.

Bingo. This is war journalism - not drawing class. Art can certainly make a point larger than itself (e.g., Picasso's Guernica) but an embedded artist with a sketchpad?

An embedded sculptor would be totally absurd, but this isn't far from it.
posted by three blind mice at 9:01 AM on February 19, 2008


War journalism is not art class, nor is it writing, photography, video, or sound-recording class.

The reason an embedded sculptor would be absurd is because of practical issues. A sketchbook is obviously a workable way to capture images in the field. As for whether images and information brought back from the front should only convey information without offering any artistry or emotion, it's obvious to me that the most memorable and effective wartime images and writing contain LOTS of artistry and emotion.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 12:27 PM on February 19, 2008


This is war journalism - not drawing class.

I don't see any problem with artistic reports from Afghanistan. In fact, I find them often more evocative than the usual bs. And here we're talking about an accomplished artist who was hired to draw war reality, not drawing class.
posted by ddaavviidd at 1:24 PM on February 19, 2008


Art can certainly make a point larger than itself (e.g., Picasso's Guernica) but an embedded artist with a sketchpad?

Yeah! Why do they even make sketchpads anymore? They're not remotely digital, and pencil-marks are notorious for smudging. What could they possibly capture that a 10-megapixel camera couldn't? Get with the program, guys! War is for men! Go sketch a nude! The suggestion that "art" could somehow be more evocative, or communicate things in ways that photography can't is ludicrous. Case in point: black-and-white photography. After colour film came out, nobody took black-and-white photographs anymore, and certainly not in war. What possible use could inferior technology have?
posted by bicyclefish at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2008


LNM: Thanks. Powerful stuff. I find myself wondering which of those young men and women are now dead.

It's awful to say it, but I think it's time for Canada to withdraw from that war. It started out well and with the best of intentions; it came very close to succeeding at several points: the Taliban were nearly done for and the citizens were ready to take back their country. Then our main ally buggered off and without their support the entire thing has gone straight down the shitter.

It's a real shame. I believe Afghanistan could have been a successful democracy, and would have been the start of significant change in the mid-East.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:04 PM on February 19, 2008


Before this comments thread gets drowned in the oncoming sea of stupidity the first two comments suggest it may become

I think that was a bit unfair.

I also think it's unfair that the war, and the civilians and soldiers who've died in it, have been given the sort of coverage for which these pictures are a metaphor - hastily sketched slices of life, or overwrought studies showing much and telling little - and not much else.

This sort of war was not in the job description for most of the folks who signed up for the forces, it's a major shift in Canadian foreign policy, and to give it a half-assed Rockwell treatment - these are just any old folks doing any old job - is insulting, lazy, and disingenuous. Especially with the commentary that has a tone of inevitability running through it.

I don't blame the artist, who is just one person with one perspective. It's an interesting project and the pictures are good for what they are, I guess. I blame the Post, who know damn well what they're doing. This is propaganda. We've had oodles of it, yet still no real debate on the war.

I suppose I could have said that instead of simply snarking but I was rushing out to work. Which is probably not an excuse.
posted by regicide is good for you at 3:13 PM on February 19, 2008


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