PetaPixel

Taking Large Format Portraits of Marines in Afghanistan

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This year I was presented with the unexpected opportunity to take a short trip to Afghanistan, and was able to take my camera gear with me. I had wanted to shoot portraits of deployed Marines being, well … themselves for quite some time now.

So with about two weeks notice I was off to the sand box. Cameras, film and the closest thing to a darkroom I could pack into my luggage in tow.

One of the cameras I brought with me was my Sinar F2 large format camera. It shoots photos that are 4×5 inches, and along with assorted types of sheet of film I brought some of Ilford’s direct positive photo paper with me.

It’s like a paper slide, so when you shoot and develop it you get a positive photo. It is also very finicky to shoot. Any slight mistake in the exposure will show up in the print. Even so I shot a slew of these little photos:

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The biggest issue I faced wasn’t the harshness of Afghanistan, it was getting the Marines to trust me to take their photos. I spent a few days before I even took my first photo building a rapport with them and slowly I got them to wind down so they could be relaxed and enjoy having their photo taken.

After that I developed their photos beside their hanger, and in a few minuets I had a photo they could hold in their hands. Because of the extreme heat, and lack of running water I had to make do with what I could for developing them. While they are imperfect photos, I think they perfectly capture what it feels like to be here.


About the author: M. Patrick Kavanaugh is a Staff Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who works as an Ordnance Chief for a squadron of CH-53E helicopters. He loves to capture his military life on film, and so you’ll almost always find him with his camera in hand — most often his trusty press camera and flash bulbs.


P.S. In addition to writing this article, SSgt Kavanaugh was also kind enough to send us a few additional photos he took with his D800 during this same trip. Check those out below:

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