I first ran across Kalpesh Lathigra‘s series Anglo-Afghan War on tumblr, and was struck by the images. The work looks nothing like other coverage of the conflict I’ve seen. In the images, there aren’t explosions. There aren’t soldiers shooting. There aren’t locals kneeling or being interrogated. It’s a different view of the country and foreign militaries, and that got me intrigued. I asked Lathigra a little about the project, how it came about, and what the viewer learns from this approach to such a well-photographed subject.
dvafoto: How did the work come about?
Lathigra: The work was commissioned by The Guardian Weekend Magazine by Kate Edwards, the Director of Photography at the mag. She had seen my work Lost in the Wilderness and we talked about approaching the story in a similar way. The essay was about the life of British Soldiers and War in Afghanistan. The story required me to be embedded with the Parachute Regiment for 3 weeks and this was in 2007 in Helmand.
dvafoto: Could you describe your approach to photographing the story? The ongoing war in Afghanistan has been photographed and photographed for a decade. What did you have in mind going in and how did that work into your coverage for the story? What are you trying to show?
Lathigra: I think there are an amazing number of photographers who have shown the experience of soldiers and civilians caught under fire, explosions and sheer impact of conflict …. I did go on patrols and by sheer luck we didn’t get shot at or have explosions. I think if I had been exposed to that I would have made pictures of this in my way. I am not interested in what I term bang bang images…..I want the viewer to really look at my work and see the nuances and metaphors. Look at the photograph of the destroyed Hesco Barrier, the photograph of an Afghan National Police post was made on patrol there was very little interaction between the soldiers and the police at this time and I wanted to capture the fleeting moment of passing, the likelihood that a soldier and this police officer will meet again after the war is over is unlikely yet they shared the same moment and that very much plays into the some of the landscapes with Afghan villagers, them in the distance the soldiers on patrol….just passing…fleeting moments……..A group of three soldiers just in a tent the ordinariness of the situation.
What I have to say is that this is my experience and not what other photographers have had. From the outset of the essay the idea for me was a quiet reflective series of photographs, I was using a medium format, it physically makes me slow down and think and for me that is important to really think what am I trying to say with this photograph……I wish I could have stayed longer as the work is incomplete and my hope is to go back before the drawdown. My friend the late Tim Hetherington and myself had spoken about our approaches to the war and how we felt it was important to have authorship over your work and to walk away from the cliches of the photographing these young men and war in general. I think it is important to remember that when I photographed this series, Afghanistan was the forgotten war, Iraq at the forefront. I guess the word I am looking for is there was an emotional distance and I think for me that is reflected in the photographs. Now time has moved forward and when I go back I think this show in the new photographs.
dvafoto: How does the work fit in with the rest of your work? Had you done any conflict work before? On your site I see work about military training, for instance; are you working on a larger body of work on the subject?
Lathigra: I was a news photographer for many years and covered a variety of stories around the world but never conflict and maybe that is why these pictures are different.
In regards to how does this fit into the rest of my work……I am currently working on the ideas of truth and fiction in regards to images of conflict. So I spent a month on the set of Coriolanus, the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes. The film was made on location in Serbia and some of the locations used were scenes of conflict during the Balkans War. The research material reflected photography from that time. I decided to shoot both a diary and large format on the set, the diary is very much reportage, the large format is to have a tableaux of the scenes. I have since had a few assignments in regards to military training and intend to photograph more of these.
Thanks to Kalpesh Lathigra for sharing his work. Check out more on his site.