How I Got the Photo – Zachary Prong

2016 NPOY PORTRAIT/ PERSONALITY, Finalist – Khan Mohammed, a young boy who fled the fighting in Sangin, Helmand Province, shortly after his father was killed in January 2016 during fighting between  the Taliban and government forces, is now living in an IDP camp on the outskirts of Kabul. Afghan forces, backed by Western fighter planes and special forces had been struggling to repel a Taliban siege in Sangin for weeks. (Zachary Prong)


I met Khan Mohammed at Charahi Qambar, a camp for internally displaced persons on the outskirts of Kabul, in January of last year. I was there with my colleague Andrew Johnson and a local journalist named Qurban Mansoor Bakhtar.

Khan and his family had just fled Sangin, Helmand Province, after his father was killed during a fight between the Taliban and government forces. The situation they described to us was hellish; bodies decomposing in the streets, a woman who drowned her starving children, friends and relatives killed in the crossfire. Government forces, backed by Western fighter planes and special forces, had been attempting to repel a Taliban siege of the district for months.

This was one of only a handful of photos I took at the camp that day. Mansoor and several others had warned that it wouldn’t be safe for us to linger for too long. It was here that Canadian journalist Mellissa Fung was kidnapped in 2008.

Because our time was limited and we had showed up unannounced we spent more time talking to those we met than taking photos. This was the only portrait I made of Khan. I was speaking with his family, noticed the light and his expression, quickly composed the frame using my flip screen and took the shot. We left shortly afterwards.

I’m not sure what happened to Khan or his family, but given that fighting is still ongoing in Helmand it is unlikely they would have returned.


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