'Drawing the Drawdown': Sketching The War In Afghanistan

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Richard Johnson, the senior graphics editor and news illustrator for the Washington Post, is on a reporting trip through Afghanistan. He is embedded with troops there, and is sketching the drawdown in that country as American forces prepare to leave.

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Johnson has been sketching the war for a decade, making trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of his sketches have been preserved at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Johnson says he prefers drawing over photographing because he thinks the time it takes to draw lets him form a relationship with his subject.

"In almost every instance i try and draw live," Johnson told Here & Now's Robin Young. "And unlike a photograph, that means I've spent ten minutes, half an hour, an hour, or days getting to know them."

Johnson says the process of sketching and seeing a subject with both eyes, instead of through one eye and a lens, changes how people experience the sketches.

"Something to do with the confluence of those two things means it grabs people, especially in a period when people have become almost completely numb to the photography they are seeing," Johnson said.

Johnson comes from a long line of war artists, and cites Howard Brody, who drew soldiers fighting in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

It does have a way of perking people's empathy in a way that other types of media do not.

Richard Johnson

Brody met Johnson's editor, Joseph Galloway, when Galloway was serving in Vietnam. Brody's images stayed with Galloway and inspired Johnson's own project.

"That was because forty years after Vietnam, forty years after [Galloway] thought Brody was nothing but a silly old man with his pencils, he realized that the artwork that Brody created then, held him more, and moved him more than any photograph he saw from the conflict from that period," Johnson said. "I do feel like there are a few of us out here who are working incredibly hard to continue the tradition of war artistry, and it does have a way of perking people's empathy in a way that other types of media do not."


  • Richard Johnson, senior graphics editor and news illustrator for the Washington Post. He tweets @newsillustrator.

This segment aired on October 1, 2014.


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