Robert Nickelsberg: On Capturing Afghanistan

For all who couldn’t make it out Monday afternoon to hear veteran photojournalist Robert Nickelsberg speak, here’s a quick synopsis and some thoughts about the talk (This is Yardain btw, filling in a blog post because my in-class presentation was cancelled).

Nickelsberg first covered Afghanistan for Time Magazine in 1988, when he grabbed a job opening at the New Delhi bureau. Since then, he’s traveled to the country over 50 times, documenting the rise and fall of the Soviets, the rise and fall of the Taliban, and US invasion, among other things.

A young Nickelsberg in Guatemala City in 1982.

Nickelsberg spent the majority of his presentation moving chronologically from ’88 to the present day,  painting a picture — or rather, expounding on already snapped pictures — of a war-torn region and its various groups, both native and foreign, fighting for power.

There were a lot of interesting facts and tidbits Nickelsberg touched on, and since Prof. Lim was kind enough to film the presentation, I transcribed a few of my favorites below:

On why photographers are cooler than writers (jk):

“You don’t get pictures by being behind the writer. And the writers can always push the photographers forward and say ‘tell us what it looks like up there’ and they hide. But that’s just the nature of the profession. It’s not a note of bravery or being crazy. It is where the pictures are.”

On the forgotten difficulties of the pre-digital era:

“I worked for a weekly so I had to get film out by Wednesday so it traveled Thursday to Europe, Thursday to Friday to New York, went straight to the lab and that was deadline for Time magazine, Friday night … And it was not simple and some the gray hair is not just from missing flights, but from trying to get my film onboard, and not get stolen or lost.”

On why the 9/11 plot wasn’t foiled:

“One thing to keep in mind is the United States closed its embassy on January 20th, 1989 and didn’t reopen it until December 17th, 2001. The United States had no embassy there, no representative, nobody picking up information … this was one of the most serious blunders that you can relate all the way back and forward to now into Iraq and Syria. We had no presence.”

And here’s his book!