Photo Essays

Capturing the Moments Between Bullets and Bombs

James Hill. A couple went down the barren roads of Badakhshan province, North Afghanistan, 2001
James Hill, “A couple went down the barren roads of Badakhshan province, North Afghanistan” (2001) (all images courtesy The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography)

Like many accomplished photojournalists, James Hill’s work exists in a blurred space between reportage and fine art. His independent projects and his work for the New York Times have garnered him a World Press Photo award and a Pulitzer Prize, among others. A 2014 book, Somewhere Between War and Peace, featured selections of Hill’s photo-reportage; Moscow’s the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography’s current exhibition, Between War and Peace, features an assortment of the works originally selected for that book.

The phrase “between war and peace” evokes Hill’s style well. His images rarely capture events — as the strictest understanding of photojournalism might suggest — but rather depict the undramatic moments in conflict. A 2003 image from Iraq displays a Marine holding a pack of skittles in one hand and shielding his eyes with the other as his convoy is engulfed in a sandstorm. The photo doesn’t convey any details about the invasion of Iraq, only the terrifying yellowness of being submerged in swirling sand, and one soldier’s unthinking attachment to an open pack of skittles.

Perhaps the most conspicuous element of Hill’s style is the particular cohesive color scheme of each image, so unified as to almost seemed staged. The compositions favor hue over geometry. A 2001 photo from Mazar-i-Sharif shows a man feeding doves in front of the Blue Mosque. The doves rise in front of the camera, their white feathers blending with the turquoise architecture and covering the green fatigues. The shade of the sky reflects the translucency of doves’ wings captured in motion. So much beauty amidst war bittersweetly reflects the world’s polarities.

Mazar-i-Sharif, North Afghanistan. A man fed the doves of the shrine of Azrat Ali in the city of Mazar-i Sharif where the spirit of Ali, the son of the prophet Mohammad is kept.  Twenty pairs of doves were orignally brought to the shrine in the sixteenth century by Sultan Hussein Byeqra from Nejev, in modern day Iraq, where Ali is buried.   The doves, known locally as Azrat's army, and as symbols of peace are according to the current mullah of the mosque, the first to leave when fighting breaks out, a frequent occurence, and the last to return.  Photo by James Hill/30 November 2001.
Mazar-i-Sharif, North Afghanistan. A man fed the doves of the shrine of Azrat Ali in the city of Mazar-i Sharif where the spirit of Ali, the son of the prophet Mohammad, is kept. Twenty pairs of doves were originally brought to the shrine in the 16th century by Sultan Hussein Byeqra from Nejev, in modern day Iraq, where Ali is buried. The doves, known locally as Azrat’s army, and as symbols of peace, are, according to the current mullah of the mosque, the first to leave when fighting breaks out, a frequent occurrence, and the last to return (photo by James Hill, November 30, 2001)
James Hill. A Marine clung onto a packet of Skittles during a sandstorm in the southern Iraqi desert. 2003
James Hill, “A Marine clung onto a packet of Skittles during a sandstorm in the southern Iraqi desert” (2003)
James Hill. Taliban prisoners squeezed onto a truck in the desert, North Afghanistan, November 2001
James Hill, “Taliban prisoners squeezed onto a truck in the desert, North Afghanistan, November 2001”
James Hill. A dove was attached to a coat stand in the ruins of School No. 1, Beslan, North Ossetia, September 2004
James Hill, “A dove was attached to a coat stand in the ruins of School No. 1, Beslan, North Ossetia, September 2004”

Between War and Peace continues at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography (Bolotnaya Emb., 3/1, Moscow) through August 2. 

comments (0)