Donovan Wylie's Kandahar outposts

copyright Donovan Wylie, Magnum. Observation Post. Exact location unknown. Kandahar Province. Afghanistan, 2011

Although Canada was part of ISAF and in Kandahar Province until just this summer, we rarely saw where they were.  Rick Mercer went to the base at Kandahar, stood in front of Tim Hortons, we saw ramp ceremonies, CF members sent messages back to their families at Christmas on CBC, but it was all in the bright lights of tv cameras and the cleanliness of the main base.  Even news reports of the poppy fields being destroyed were as beautiful as poppies are.

Donovan Wylie, a Belfast photographer, was embedded with the Canadian ISAF contingent and funded through the Bradford Fellowship 2010/11 from Bradford College, the University of Bradford and the National Media Museum, located in Bradford.  His series of photographs of FOBs is on display at the National Media Museum until mid-February 2012, and will be published in an accompanying book. 

Forward Operating Bases are just that: the forward part of the line, observation posts usually made of hesco bastions, and very, very vulnerable.  This is the Afghanistan in which our forces did their tours, and in which 158 died: dusty, brown, lunar, lonely.  We, in Canada, were never shown this environment.  Our various ministers of defence never walked into these outposts on IED mined tracks.  They never lived there.  

One of the characteristics of WWI and the horror of its trench warfare was the eternally cheerful letters from the front sent to families back home. And when those who survived finally did make it home, they never talked about it.  After seeing Wylie's photographs, I feel that we in Canada were let down by our national media, who also sent cheerful reports from the front.  Why is PTSD as epidemic as it is?  Perhaps it is because hardly anyone is talking about what happened. 

Stephanie Whitephotography, war