Outposts: Donovan Wylie brings frontline Afghanistan to the National Media Museum

By Richard Moss | 15 October 2011
a photo of a rocky desert outcrop with an observation post on top of it
OP3. Forward Operating Base, Ma'sum Ghar. Kandahar Province© Donovan Wylie/Magnum
Exhibition: Donovan Wylie: Outposts, Bradford Fellowship 2010-11, Gallery One, National Media Museum, Bradford, until February 2012

The tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan has brought with it some searing investigations into the strategy and value of the war. It has also drawn some thoughtful responses in the shape of photographic exhibitions from the frontline.

One of the most haunting is currently showing at the National Media Museum in Bradford, where the photographs of Donovan Wylie reveal the ethereal and strangely isolated Allied bases in the frontline wilds of Kandahar province. 

In a unique collaboration between the National Media Museum and the Imperial War Museum, Wylie was despatched with the Canadian contingent of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for six weeks, starting in December 2010, to capture these lonely outposts

The result is a series of eerie shots of observation posts and sangars perched amid the arid desert planes on the top of rocky outcrops.

Seemingly exposed and fragile, the Canadian network of temporary military bases (known as Forward Operating Bases, or FOBs) is strategically placed often on the sites of ancient defence posts constructed during previous conflicts.

Wylie is interested in juxtaposing the perspective of the observers with that of the observed. His previous photographs of the Maze prison (The Maze, 2004) and military watchtowers in his native Northern Ireland (British Watchtowers, 2007) similarly explore the theme of surveillance buildings. Some of these earlier photographs can be seen in this exhibition.

The exhibition, which is Wylie's second solo outing at the National Media Museum, continues his collaboration with the Imperial War Museum which began in 2008 when he photographed the Green Zone, the heavily fortified administrative centre of Baghdad controlled by the American occupying forces since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. 

a photograph of an observation post sat on a rock outcrop amidst a range of mountains
OP1. Forward Operating Base, Ma'sum Ghar. Kandahar Province. Afghanistan (2010)© Donovan Wylie/Magnum
  • The exhibition forms part of Ways of Looking, a new photography festival in Bradford, runing until October 30 2011. Read our Preview.
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