Here and Now with Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, October 10, 2014

‘Drawing the Drawdown’: Sketching The War In Afghanistan

Private First Class Justin Blue takes a break and listens to his radio. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)Specialist Ashley Nicole Williams cleans a Black Hawk Medevac helicopter in Bagram Airfield. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)Sketch of Lt. Col. Ryan Barker's locker. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)Chief Warrant Officer 3rd Class Jeffrey Myers. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)A suspected Taliban insurgent receives care at Bagram Airfield. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)An Afghan police officer with head, neck and shrapnel injuries. He was receiving care at Bagram Airfield. (Courtesy Richard Johnson)(Courtesy Richard Johnson)

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.

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.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

May 25 Comment

Celebrating The Class Of 2016: Peace Odiase

Odiase is one of two valedictorians at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee.

May 25 7 Comments

NEADS Service Dog Meets His Match

Here & Now has been tracking service dog Bailey, who recently met his new owner, since last year.

May 24 20 Comments

Remembering A Forgotten Scandal At Yale

Mark Oppenheimer was surprised to find how the scandal impacted those involved, almost 60 years later.

May 24 9 Comments

Arizona’s ‘Adopt-A-Burro’ Program Tries To Solve An Overpopulation Issue

The small donkeys are federally protected animals, but cause problems like digging up plants and walking on highways.