Quad, Derby

Pete McGovern
Guilad Kahn 'Armoured Tourism
May 2011


As news broke today of the slaying of Osama Bin Laden by American insurgents in Pakistan more than ever it would seem that the media is less than capable of expressing an alternate more complex point of view to counter the persuasively simplistic American one.

Guilad Kahn, like those before him, has had to accept the new rules of engagement for photo-journalists, where now there really is only one point of view allowed, that of the embedded photographer. The scenes he reveals of the Afghan people and countryside is from the viewpoint of US soldiers riding in armoured humvees. The effect is reminscent of those domestic conflicts of the 1980s where the UK media sheltered behind policemen with riot shields opposing striking miners throwing stones. Riding with an occupying force vulnerable to attack from IEDs there is a similar natural inclination to empathise, literally, with the side we are on. It is inevitable that within one of these armoured vehicles there is very little room for manoeuvre, in more ways than one.

However Kahn is not a propagandist as such. The image composition is never unobstructed through the bullet proof glass (which is unexpectedly spotless and distortion free, by the way) he includes the dark metalwork framing of the vehicle in every single shot. The subjects may be more obviously enclosed by it but sooner or later it is ominously apparent that so are we.

The lives of an economically impoverished population are arresting in the well observed banality of detail but it is the faces turned in our direction that more is revealed. There is not only distrust and resentment but sometimes an unexpected smile, and of course, a curiosity that works both ways.

With a democracy in the stranglehold of the pro-Israeli lobby there is little option for ambitious US (and inevitably UK) politicians to engage in these aggressive wars cleaning up the mess of Middle East foreign policy. And while unlike Vietnam we are no longer allowed to witness the pitiful consequences - and there seems to be little appetite for it - photographers like Kahn despite their best efforts may be better of taking the next plane out. It is the leaked war-trophy photographs taken by the troops themselves that now gives us a glimpse of the plight of those 'ragheads' who have come to replace those gooks as a near sub human enemy.

Armoured Tourism ends 8 May 2011.



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