Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan

Rita Leistner


Photographs made on an iPhone during a military embed in Afghanistan are the jumping-off point in this journey of process and discovery about communication, photography, technology, and war. High-tech meets low-tech in the battlefields of Afghanistan and in the printing method itself: digital captures from a smartphone are printed with the time-honoured 19th-century technique made famous by Edward Steichen. Photographer Rita Leistner joins with master printer Bob Carnie to create painterly and highly archival three-colour gum bichromate on platinum prints mounted on aluminum. Leistner used the retro Hipstamatic app—with its shutter lag and slowed down processing—to focus on calm or motionless “artifactual” elements in the scene: the Hindu Kush mountains viewed through the portal of a colonial ruin; a torn curtain hanging from a tent-like structure in a deserted campground; a warning sign handwritten by the Taliban in a hybrid Pashto script. Text panels from Leistner’s book, Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan, co-designed with Jenny Armour, are also on display. The result is a portrayal of war that differs in form and content from the usual media currency—shedding light on old and new technologies, on a failed war, and on human connection.

Curated by Rita Leistner