Afghanistan 1986- James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey, American war photographer and photojournalist, has covered some of the most grisly conflicts of recent decades. The above photograph depicts Afghan Mujahedin at prayer before resuming operations against Russian forces in 1986.

I find it a striking shot predominantly due to its strong design elements. The fighters, kneeling in prayer are framed so that only their knees and hands are visible. Their knees form a strong horizontal line and completely consumes the top third of the image. The greys and blues of their garments are punctuated by their darker hands.

Below their knees, four rifle barrels divide the bottom two thirds of the frame menacingly- these vertical lines are staggered against the Mujahedin’s hands and juxtaposed against the strong horizontals- the geometry of the image, while not created with hard lines is strong and ordered, and the impact is that the Mujahedin appear calm, balanced and courtesy of the rifles; deadly.

I also noted that Nachtwey chose not to include the Mujahedin’s faces- perhaps they would not allow this, however, more likely is that this was deliberately designed to create an air of mystique surrounding the warriors – men without identities, united in a common cause and driven by religious fervor.

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