Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
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.)

  • BooksAlive

    Small villages in Illinois are now proud owners of Humvees and helos that came from the military disengaging. Not sure how the armoured vehicles can be repurposed, tho’.

    Photo 4 of the scrap metal resonates with Chicago’s current debacle of eight 75-seat school buses that were stolen overnight, taken to a scrap yard and demolished. Because they were equipped with GPS devices, the authorities were able to track the buses and make arrests.,0,6026925.story

  • acm

    A little confused, as your two links point to the same place, an article + slideshow.

    I feel like we like this washed color pallette for Iraq and Afghanistan, as it seems to symbolize the harshness of the desert climate + maybe grittiness of the conditions/soldiers. Feels like we’ve been seeing this for the “on the ground” coverage for a while now, although maybe that’s usually a result of sand + military khaki and fatigues. I trust your eye though, if you’ve noticed a change.

    Wish we’d get out. There’s no way to put lipstick on this one; it’s just a mess we never had a prayer of fixing. Sigh.

  • Stan B.

    A Chorus Line!

  • Scarabus

    The storage lockers remind me of Bradley Manning (who was indeed kept imprisoned in a container) and Jamie Leigh Jones (who falsely claimed she was gang raped and imprisoned in a container).

    Your comments about color reminded me of an article about annoying trends in movies. #5 and #4 concern color, and I think they’re relevant as a compare/contrast with trends in still photos.

  • Ross Hipwell
  • Cactus

    As I look over the
    miles of empty tanks and cargo containers full of equipment, I wonder where they
    will be sent. We’ve already spent the money on this equipment and when they
    return to the US, the former soldiers will need jobs in an economy that is once
    again shrinking. The answer seems clear — we must have another war

  • Cactus

    “. . . if the red, white
    and blue doesn’t run, it sure can fade.” Isn’t that the problem with most
    bravado war slogans? Where are all the gung-ho chicken hawks now that their war
    isn’t so popular. I, too, flashed back to Escher’s work. It’s that confusion
    of perspective that the dancing shadows provide. As we have heard in the news
    recently, the “friendlies” are shooting at US soldiers as they get ready to
    leave. That is what the shadows seem to be telling us — how many of these guys
    will make it home. The way they seem to be dancing back and forth makes it a
    cruel guessing game — a dance for the devil.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes