“Undercover” in Afghanistan with a Leica M10 by John Milton

“Undercover” in Afghanistan with a Leica M10
by John Milton – His INSTANRAM is HERE. Other Posts by John are HERE. 
Hi Steve,
I’m back with a dose of insanity. After getting married at the top of a fiery volcano in war torn Congo last year and then honeymooning on top of an iron ore train in Mauritania, we decided we needed a proper adventure to celebrate our one year anniversary. Therefore last week we ventured into Afghanistan “undercover” and I must say it was our grandest adventure to date. The trip was filled with buzkashi (a headless goat version of equestrian polo), dog and camel fighting, drug dens, a cemetery overrun by heroin addicts, and plenty of other surreal interactions. Some of the shots are a bit soft on the focus but it was tough taking quick shots during adrenaline fueled encounters.


Enjoy the shots and I hope the content of this post doesn’t upset anyone – it all comes down to cultural sensitivity which we all could use a little more of.

John

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51 Comments

  1. Outstanding photography! Sharing pics involving animal cruelty (dog / camel fights) is another matter in my mind though (regardless if you call it documentary, local culture, or whatever else). Just a thought Steve, for an otherwise flawless site that I love coming back to for inspiration.

  2. Good lord. Best photo’s of the year. Period. You have found your vocation and your occupation.
    Stay safe and please let me know when you publish a book. I can promise you it will receive a cult following.

  3. Man oh Man! I really admired your dispatch from the iron ore adventure in Mauritania… but this set surfs the Afghani wave in an admirable abstract truth. Thanks for sharing your photography – and to Steve for hosting this site that allows us to comment as such on work that would be hard to access anywhere else.

  4. Wonderful images– anyone who comments about focus issue is missing the point….the image is the point and you have done a great job. Curious what ISO and what lens(s) you used. Breathtaking stuff, surreal comes to mind….be careful!

  5. What a fantastic series of pictures. It’s not often I look at a series of pics and look again….then again.

    Wonderful work.

    Ian

  6. Wow mate, its been a long time since something has moved me like this. Firstly to go undercover like this is just freaking insane but yet so incredibly rewarding and the photos are all superb. Let alone to do it with an M10 and capture what you have, you hardly need to say sorry for some out of focus!.. The first portrait of the guy with hood up (drugged by the looks) just took my breath away. The rest are just as incredible to see. The way of life for these people is incredible. The guns, the ruthlessness, the drugs. Thank you so much and I wish you all the success for this series of photos.

  7. Very nice work. I really liked how you shot the story of these people who have been through so much. I could care less about the type of camera you used or the processing. The fact that you wanted to go there is at best; adventurous, dangerous, daring and somewhat exciting. But this is what makes great photographs. This is the job of a photographer. My favorite image is of the woman on the gun turret. In the midst of all that war, suffering and carnage… Life goes on!

  8. Very nice images.
    That is how muted colors and underexposure works.
    Somebody should give Dan Bar a link to this gallery…

  9. There’s some great work here, I think, and no, I’m not upset. Thank you for sharing your work!

    But cultural sensitivity? Well, let’s put it this way: not all cultures are equal. I hope that Afghanistan can one day know peace and prosperity.

  10. In one way interesting images (some of them), in another way I can not see how this to be called photojournalism?
    Why are you doing this. Your story sounds like you looking to get a “kick” visiting such places, and not so much because you care about the places and want to show their problems and situation to the rest of the world.
    But maybe I misunderstand you? If so, maybe you can explain whats your intension?
    For me sitting on a tank, which killed people/or in which people died, just to take a nice snapshot is something I can not understand. To me it seems like missing respect for the country and people and what they have experienced over the last years. I find this far from “cool”.
    Again, if I misunderstand maybe you can help me to understand.

  11. As to technical side I would rather have a FujiT100, easier and far less expensive. On such trips I do wonder you travel these places with such expensive gear. Your pictures are o.k. but sad, dark. Probably such is Afghanistan nowadays. When I was last time in 1977 my picts were filled with light.

  12. Great photos (regardless of what camera they were taken with). From all I’ve heard and read, there are many facets to Afghanistan. Extremes of good, and beautiful, not just of bad. It’s a pity that most will just see the country through the massive filter of the “Coalition Of The Willing”, or with their own cultural blinkers firmly in place.

  13. You’ve made my day, John!
    Great photos, great trip! The places look surreal, and without the motorbike and the AK47, it will be the same some 100 years ago. You are blessed to have such a partner in your adventures. We have to prase your wife for her courage.
    I can imagine, to offer my wife such a trip …

  14. Fantastic pictures. The world needs more people who are brave enough to document it. Whether it’s with a Leica or a cellphone camera. It’s inspiring. Thank you.

  15. These are simply stunning. Documentary photo journalism at it’s most inspiring best. Captivating. The photos have soul and character. Too many people pixel count, look at sharpness and forget that photography is a about the story and the soul and these photos have everything that I like in great photography 🙂

  16. The pink pumps on that tank, wonderful.
    The portraits, unusual and interesting.
    The technical “look” of the images, so Leica.
    The animal cruelty, abhorrent and unacceptable to civilized people.
    A place and people I’d never want to be close enough to photograph.

    • Agree. I have no sympathy with such a primitive culture. No matter how war ridden a country and its people are, it always surprise me how cruel and primitve some cultures are.

      • Um, Western culture has its own share of cruelty too. Just google how elephants are brutally trained to make them give rides, how a bull’s vision is impaired with vaseline before a bull fight, circuses, rodeos, horse racing, trophy hunting, etc etc. The list goes on.

  17. “I’m back with a dose of insanity. After getting married at the top of a fiery volcano in war torn Congo last year and then honeymooning on top of an iron ore train in Mauritania, we decided we needed a proper adventure to celebrate our one year anniversary. ” is it just me, or is this bloke trying just a bit too hard?

      • Youre living brother!

        I wouldnt go there at this stage of my life, but mo’ power to ya’

        Carpe the hell out of that diem if that’s your calling.

        Thx for the pics

    • no, i think it’s just you ! some people try hard to sit on a chair and stay there as long as possible ( meaning, until we have to put them in the coffin ). Some need adventures. And that’s we got here. This, great photos, and a brave brave heart

  18. Awesome pics! I don’t know if these are the famous Leica color/rendering…?:). But to me it also looks like a pretty good job in post-processing, color grading and the whole enchilada. I like this kind of atmosphere pictures!

  19. I guess my comment is the same as the last time you posted on here….nice pics but at such a high potential cost. You’re playing with fire visiting these places. Yes, your pics are unique as very few people outside of hardcore photojournalists go to these places, but there’s a reason for that. The pros work with local fixers and even then they are risking their lives in many cases.

    It’s just not worth it for some IG hits…

  20. I have to agree with Cory and Jeff. The British were defeated there in the 1840’s, the Russian’s in the 1980’s, the Americans and British and other Western Forces haven’t fared too well in recent history… time to give up I think.
    Great photos though.

  21. This is the first time I have ever commented on an article posted on this site, despite having enjoyed many of them very much. Your work– and your lifestyle– are mind boggling. Thank you for taking the time to share both of them with us.

  22. Holy smokes!!!!

    The pics are amazing. The place is……I don’t know what to say

    Maybe decompress for awhile…go walk around EPCOT 🙂

    I can’t recall a post that gives greater pause for reflection and thought than this

    Wow!

  23. The pictures with your wife are absolutely fantastic!!! Love the shoes and so creative. Just seeing that photo with no background present a great mystery. How did you meet a woman who is so up for anything?

      • That and the Russian invasion in the late 70’s and 80’s. Which the west countered by arming the insurgent (sometimes islamist) militias with stuff like stinger missiles. Among them was a young Osama (if remember correctly), who learned the tricks of his trade there.

  24. Thanks for sharing what many of us would otherwise never see. I pick up a culturally sensitive style of shooting in both the group scenes and the individual portraits. I hope you know Steve McCurry’s Afghanistan work which I think you would appreciate.

    • Hideous in what way?. I think if you are brave enough to visit ( I haven’t, but have seen photos from someone who worked there) parts of it are truly breathtakingly beautiful. I enjoyed this post btw.

    • I couldn’t disagree more. Admittedly, I may be biased because I used to live there, but Afghanistan is, IMO, one of the most breathtaking places on this earth, and the people are beautiful as well. Obviously, there is a lot of evil there that has ripped the country to shreds over the centuries, but…I truly miss that place.

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