andy spyra – kashmir

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Andy Spyra


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I first came to Kashmir in the early spring of 2007 at the end of a motorcycle trip across India. I simply fell in love with the region, the people, the light and the atmosphere of this remote place of the world. But as much as I love it, that much I dislike the political situation of the valley.

Squeezed in between the two atomic powers and arch-enemies India and Pakistan, the people of Kashmir are the ones who suffer from the conflict. Their wives and sisters get raped and murdered, and sons and husbands disappear, or they simply get shot, during one of the countless demonstrations against the Indian military presence in the region. Kashmir is the most militarized zone in the world, with over one million soldiers facing each other at the line of control, the de facto border between India and Pakistan. Srinagar, the capital of Indian administered Kashmir, is therefore also called the “City of Bunkers” as you can hardly walk any street without facing heavily fortified bunkers of police, military and paramilitary troops.

Most of the young men deployed in Kashmir come from poor and rural areas of India, and many are from Bihar in the mid-east of India. In Kashmir they are alienated: they don‘t speak the Kashmiri or Urdu, they belong to a different culture and religion and they aren’t allowed to leave their camps for security reasons. Under these circumstances, it‘s easy for political and religious persons to feed the distrust and hate between the people of Kashmir and the ones who should be there to protect them.

At times I was invited into private homes, where family members would mourn over the death of a beloved one.  Seeing what the death of just one person does to a family, the death of more than 60.000 persons during the Kashmir-conflict is simply beyond my comprehension. Psychologically the whole valley is traumatized, and I hope that through my photography people are able not only to see Kashmir as I see it, but also to feel it, just as I do.

But despite all this, Kashmir, known as the “Paradise on earth”, is still one of the most beautiful places in the world.



Andy Spyra, born 1984 in Hagen, Germany, is a freelance photographer currently based in Germany. He worked for one year as a freelance photographer with a local newspaper in his hometown Hagen before he started to study photography at the Fachhochschule Hannover. In the beginning of 2009, he quit his studies due to both personal and photographic reasons. Since then he has worked as a freelance photographer, focusing on long term in-depth projects of social and political issues worldwide.


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Andy Spyra

86 Responses to “andy spyra – kashmir”

  • Absolutely incredible images. I don’t think I could go into a situation like that and make such things.

  • MIKE R…

    smiling…i do not think we disagree on much at all in actual fact…yes, a two day discussion here, would be over in minutes in person….and of course i think you know you are invited always to meet in person…i always like that, and have done it with many here in this audience…ok, i must run and take some pictures..philosophy over ..i must go do it NOW….frowning…by the way, i saw a couple of really great singles in your 88 “street shots” which if taken down to 50 street shots could be quite strong imo……remind me to remind you to put those in…we can review by skype if you want…philosophy good for awhile, but sometimes better to just do something..make sense?


    why is it not constructive to compare Andy work with other conflict photographers? seems totally comparable to me….i was comparing it favorably in any case…i guess in the very long run comparing in general is the least attractive type of critique i agree…

    cheers, david

  • Nice work Andy.

  • David, re “more of Goya than of Capa”, good point! It has a very painterly quality.

  • I adore #10,
    any chance for a print?

  • As a work from a conflict zone is it a unique work? Yes it’s:))… Is it an interesting work? Yes, it’s for those who are interested in these kind of experiments by young photo-artists … Is it about playing with slow shutter speeds, shapes, camera tilting…? Yes, it’s… Are these pictures about the author? Yes, they appear to be… Is this work about the subject? No, it’s absolutely not… Is it a professional documentary with a touch of authorship that would communicate to the broad audience? Absolutely not… Does it have a place in today’s contemporary art gallery? Absolutely yes…

    Cheers to everybody from Anthony:)

  • David, no worries at this end and yes, it would be good to meet and thanks for the comments about my street stuff. I do intend to submit some work soon once I have a proper website to advertise. Any help always welcome. Yes, doing makes sense: my wife and I have just packed for our trip to Nova Scotia – relatives to see and Cape Breton to explore. Bob kindly gave us some info. I’d love to visit New York so, here’s hoping.



  • DAVID:

    My interpretation of Andy’s work is that it goes beyond the “classic” idea of conflict photography. PJG worked long and hard to being attention to the impact of the Vietnam war. Of course his work was also to some degree about the experience he had and what he discovered, but there was more of an objective stance to his work, was there not?

    I would say that Andy’s Kashmir essay is openly more subjective in its story telling. I’m sure there are some editors out there who would struggle to call this “photo-journalism” as considered in the purest sense as I understand the term was used in the previous comments on this essay.

    Obviously I have seen only a small number of all the images made in Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years, but I cannot recall any photograph in a newspaper or current affairs magazine which challenged the classic photo-journalism stance on conflict like Andy does. I’m sure there has been work done that contradicts me here, but it is not appearing on the front page of the Guardian or the NY Times, or in Time or Newsweek.

    And yes on making comparisons: it is so easy – and a very natural thing to do – to compare work to something else, be it other photography, painting etc. A recent link posted on Burn was to an interview with Alec Soth in which he talked about studying under Joel Sternfeld and the influence that had on him. If I remember correctly Alec said something along the lines that: as photographers we all have our influences and it is often just a little thing that differentiates one photographer’s work from another. That little thing, which I take to be authorship (including style and subject matter etc) is what should be recognized foremost and discussed, not the comparisons to work by others.

  • About the exhaustion from so much horror photographed, do like me, look at your friends snap from last week-end with the dog outs, go shoot some flowers lie you’ re the next “Chardin meets Pollack” genius, etc… For one horror picture, there are 1 million of people just being people. Photography should never be left entirely to Photographers, let alone conflict/misery photographers.

    In retrospect, Andy, I accept that you did not show us but a couple walls from Kashmir, and everything else is from an undefined population from one of those fate-stricken places where they wear loose clothes.

    I would guess, that any award you got was not because you were a witness in Kashmir (which you might very well be, and in the long run, but not in these pictures, as it takes a personal decision from us to see/remember it as “Kasmir”, title is not enough) but because of the style by which you showed suffering. For that matter, I do understand the comment about the essay fit for gallery walls.

    As an artist, it is well understood that the way one represents something is as important as the thing itself. We seem to be being told that the way of the future of PJ is no witnessing without artistry. David will say it has always been the case, maybe. I applaud any artistic vision, it still takes courage, but to bear witness, as directly, as urgently as one can, one cannot beat well-honed craft. What you are doing is something entirely different, new maybe, but just like there is Klein’s New York, K. in New York, here is, not Kashmir, but Andy’s Kashmir, Andy in Kashmir.

  • The various reactions here, pro and con, aside, why is it remarkable or even praiseworthy to show the residents of “Kashmir” (Srinagar, actually — not Jammu, Leh, Kargil, Dras, or other towns) as freaks in a nightmare? The region is well associated with war, human rights abuses, rapes, corruption. Of course, the people are suffering and will bear the scars of such suffering. In other words, the processing aside, there’s nothing here that has not been seen or imagined before.

  • Funny that I mentionned Klein, as actually, I realize that, unconsciously first, but now consciously, your style brought reminiscences of his own camera inventiveness.

  • Definitely a fan of the work, but I can understand the concerns over style. It feels trendy/gimmicky and that it will be badly dated in a couple of years. Right now, though, the pictures feel fresh, vibrant, and full of energy and emotion. We’re talking about the style, though, instead of the content. Maybe that’s just photographers talking, or maybe it’s a problem with the approach. I’m not sure that I’ve learned anything new with these pictures, but I’m not sure that that’s a bad thing either. Innovation and new news are both important, but we also need to be reminded of the ongoing, never-ending, perpetual horrors, too.

  • when I saw the pictures, I thought to myself “I saw them somewhere else already..”.
    Then I googled your name – and have to congratulate two times, one for the publication here on burn, and second for the Oscar Barnack Newcomer Award 2010!

    Great pictures, makes me look and see. Some have a bit too much processing, some are even stronger by that.
    Love #7, 9, 10, 13
    However, they are very close – a bit too close to really show the context.

    Please do not lose the story for the effects.

  • What better place than a “contemporary art gallery” to make a political statement. When I saw the opening photograph, I was reminded immediatly of Picasso’s Guernica. Published in a newspaper or magazine, photos just become yesterdays or last months news.
    Where indeed does this sort of imagery find an audience, besides burn.

    Congratulations Andy. I am bowled over by your raw talent and by the strengh and passion of these images, and those on your link.
    While some of the post-processing may be a little heavy handed, (or even more than a little), it is hard to find fault with it given the impact you have achieved. This is coming from one of the old guys who often rails against the over-use/mis-use of high contrast, blur, tilt etc.

    Thanks for kicking it up a notch.

  • O.k. – I’m getting it now, thanks to the Goya / Guernica comments. 1,2, and 5 are my favourites although it must have taken some balls if all was produced in-camera. It would be so hit or miss.

    Thanks for helping an old tired jaded man get there in the end (laughing, Imants, just joking).

    Thanks again, Andy.

  • Very interesting read. Andy, you have accomplished something here. I wish I could join back in beyond my statement yesterday, but I am overwhelmed with things to do and haven’t the time.

  • Mike remember you are the one that wrote “you must be old if you don’t get it”. not me maybe you are consulting your mate Al Zheimer too often.

  • It seems like I recall something called visual balance. These images are striking, but as they are displayed it’s too rich. I am quite impressed with Andy’s POV. It screams authorship, but the viewer needs more context to understand the depth of Andy’s expression.

    It’s moving to see images like this. Unique, visceral and personal. Gawd, we should all wish to possess such imaging prowess.

    Great dialog!!! Please continue and thank you Andy and DAH and Anton and whoever else has the chops to put this kind of stuff in front of us.

  • Ok, slight modification. Having just revisited the essay, I must restate.

    The “technique” images captured me so wholly that I neglected the others.
    This still has a balance issue, but it is far more minor than my first

    I think the bigger question is whether such strong imagery can satisfy
    and inform a larger audience. But I dig it.

  • Pomara, it struck me funny: “I think the bigger question is ……. can satisfy and inform a larger audience.”

    Just listening to Stephen King’s audio book on cd “Duma Key.” I am at the part that begins to talk of “art for art’s sake.” A comment about an artist who still painted “ an outdated way.” Isn’t it funny how art gets classified? Why is it we as viewers must put a label on something to be able to find some kind of acceptance? Maybe so we can have art history courses.

    I went back Andy and looked at those mentioned above. Maybe this is post-snap work with your software but I still love it. And still scares me. Your photos show Kashmir as you saw it; a horrifying vision of the reality of that grand misery. It spoke tons more to Kashmir’s plight than the documentary style of the previous two eastern european essays. I now pay attention when I hear of something from Kashmir. In fact, there was just another slaughtering of demonstrators within the past 24 hours or so. I can now hear their screams.

    Congratulations on this showing; I hope you begin to find hope and joy and capture those as vividly.


    i do hope to see you at our loft gathering on the 25th…you are invited of course…..been awhile…

    now Preston, you must see way more work than do i, for this seemed pretty unique to me…not because it was work from Kashmir…plenty of that around…but the overall approach, yes terror filled nightmare to be sure, was clearly as clean an authored piece as i have seen for awhile….geez let the boy have his vision even if twisted from your point of view……there are not many with ANY vision around Preston…i am not sure why so many seem to think that appealing or informing a “wider audience” is the ONLY criteria for documentary photography…appealing to many usually connotes following a “mean line”…getting sleepy….

    why is it a criteria for one photographer with one essay to be an encyclopedia of knowledge of any particular subject??…the “whole story” of Kashmir i doubt could be told by 20 brilliant photographers…why not appreciate the pure SEEING of one and then move on and see what others might also do in their own way? together they might be a whole…it would be hard for me to imagine someone seeing our lead picture right now and then not at least doing some homework on Kashmir….in other words this essay, because of its visual power, could would maybe hopefully lead a viewer to move to other books, other sites, other references to start gaining some knowledge on Kashmir today…journalistic mission fulfilled…

    on top of that, who in the world is this mythical “wider audience” anyway, and tell me exactly why we are appealing to them? wider advertising audience maybe just maybe? is the role of documentary photography only for the purpose of “information gathering”? the well done passionate singular microcosm is of more value to me personally and kicks me in the gut way more than the alleged “balanced coverage” for mass presentation…again, just my taste..besides, where in the world would you ever see that fantasy balanced visually powerful coverage by one person anyway?? name one…

    mostly aren’t we inundated by the equivalent of Musak in photo terms?? …i am all for punching 10 people right between the eyes with a real point of view which seems way way better to me than barely brushing 10,000 with “balance”…boring, forgotten , yawn..Kashmir where?? ….besides the 10 who really got nailed by the work, will become 11 by tomorrow…Kashmir there.

    cheers, david

  • Indeed David, i do appreciate a lot more what Andy is doing (and the fact that it starts by being personal to him) than what a hundred photographers did, trying to “inform an audience” in the streets of Bangkok a season ago, with pictures which, for being “factual”, did not even explain one bit what was really happening to the country. I have not seen one “authored” picture from these riots.

  • I only said: “loved it”
    I should have elaborated ..
    This essay is unique in any given way..
    Authorship at it’s best.. A step forward ..
    Is when Griffiths meets Picasso..



    HERVE “))

    my friend Oli pin-fat’s take on the riots, for sure……..i tried to help get the essay covered by Lens, but by that point, they’d been jaundiced by the coverage and wanted to move on….some of oli’s protest project where published by foto8…


  • David AH,

    What you said above has made me realize an error in the criteria
    I have employed in assessing work published here: the dreaded
    “wider audience” factor. When I take that out, I’m left with more

    Thanks, I needed that… Carry on.

  • As time passes I have more and more problems with this essay. It would be okay if it were an abstract vision of suffering, or war and suffering, or suffering resulting from idiotic religious and nationalistic beliefs; but it’s not. It’s a tale told in its entirety from the perspective of one group in a wide conflict. It takes a side and does so in a conflict of which the wider, or just about any, audience will have little or no knowledge from which to form intelligent opinions. It is propaganda, or if not propaganda it could easily be used as such. Worse yet, given the actual context, it could be used to fuel the fires of hatred, violence, and insanity in a conflict voted most likely to be the cause of a nuclear holocaust by those who study that sort of thing. Bloody irresponsible when you think of it that way, eh?

    Why is it a criteria for one photographer with one essay to be an encyclopedia of knowledge of any particular subject? That’s why. Especially when one is working on matters of life and death. Ignorance kills, maims, gets people beaten up walking to the grocery or shot at the big demonstration just as surely as the security forces do. And producing something ultra creative in the service of ignorance is not a justification.

    I like the photography though, and what’s been captured. Ideally one would lose the captions and replace them with a meditation on the insanity of religious nationalism, or horrific suffering, or something like that, above and beyond the messy political details of a particular conflict.

  • nice work andy
    my favorite are 2,7.10,11

  • my friend Oli pin-fat’s take on the riots

    I will look for it, Bob. Like David said, none of us are an encyclopedia. but I think what was missing in the Bangkok thingo (and often missing, a propos photo thailand, BTW), and that we have here, is someone who really dug in with the place (not just the event), and the people (not just the rioters). While Andy is admittedly only at the beginning of his journey of discovery.

  • DAH:

    Yes, will try to stop by on the 25th — thanks. Am heading to India the next morning!

    My comment was just that to show suffering people suffering isn’t terribly noteworthy. Yes, Andy has a signature style but beyond one or two of these pictures, what else is there except more faces twisted in agony? Kashmir is a complex place with a complex history, different communities with different grievances. Andy’s work is, or seems to be, about the Muslim residents of Srinagar who have been brutalized by the Indian army. I don’t think a photographer has to be the font of encyclopedic knowledge, but all these photos say is that the Indian army abused these people (and, strangely, he refers to the figures in #13 as “radical Islamic women,” which is a term the army would have used, but he doesn’t seem to be using it ironically).

    So as a viewer, after looking at these photos, I am struck by the personal-nightmare quality but have no empathy for the people in them because they are not people — they are figures, tropes, metaphors, bits of information. The captions don’t humanize them. They just seem like props.

    And I am not reacting to the stylization. I am in favor of personal, partisan work, and the comparisons above to Goya and Picasso are apt because they certainly represent that approach. Bob mentioned Michael Ackerman — I love “End Time City” for its similar styling of Varanasi. But Andy’s work seems less of a discovery, less an engagement with the people of Kashmir and a personal response to tragedy than a ready-made vision imposed from the outset.

    In other words, I know that Kashmir is a brutal place and that the Indian army has abused its Muslim population for generations. So these photos simply confirm (or rather scream) what is already known. But when you turn the volume down, these photos really aren’t so noteworthy. Suffering people are shown to be suffering.

    And I agree with Michael (MW) above: “Ideally one would lose the captions and replace them with a meditation on the insanity of religious nationalism, or horrific suffering, or something like that, above and beyond the messy political details of a particular conflict.”

    Go all in for an art project and drop the pretense of documentary. Then my opinion would shift.

    (And the “wider audience” issues you responded to, David — those were not my concerns.)

    I do have to say, though, for as cranky as I may sound, these photos have sparked one of the more interesting discussions on BURN and I am glad you brought them to the fore.

  • Michael W/Preston:

    as always, thoughtful, well-argued ideas…and i must admit that i agree with much of what both of you have just written….at the moment no time to write….but will try and write something back this weekend…

    cheers :)

    Herve ;))))….

    part of the series is on his website….and the same lament that you have about the riots drove oli crazy too….he’s been there for nearly 20 years and is a part of the nation/language/place and the same frustration you had, drove him to make his series…the problem with spot news…..i suspect, that is what some of the lamentation coming out here is about, which has it’s legitimacy…for sure….

    we’ll catch up when i catch up from vacation/writing/phtoo thing do….


  • Wow, my fist reaction was holy sh**t. This is deep, dark stuff. Visually terrifying. Congrats on being published here Andy. Lots of interesting debate, I can see both sides of it, but I have to stick with my first reaction upon seeing the images. Great work.


  • Its been a long while without visiting this gorgeous magazine, and I happen to find this unbelievable work. this pictures are taking documentary photography further. The first one its a painting about anguish. ANd I think it is one of those images that I will always carry on with me.Andy absolutly great work. Burn thanks for existing.

  • Though the situation in Kashmir is appalling, I must point out that the media (international and Indian) tends to project only one side of the whole affair, ie the story of the Kashmiri Muslims. The story of the “other” Kashmiris, the Kashimiri Pandits (Hindus) is lost in the process. It seems that it is politically incorrect to speak about the atrocities faced by the Kashmiri Pandits, who were murdered, raped, butchered and hounded out of their homeland by the Islamic fanatics; the madrasas in Srinagar used to call out the names of the local Hindu families over loudspeakers, who were to be the targets of the “freedom fighters”. Now the Kashmiri Pandits cannot go back to Kashmir because their homes have either been destroyed or taken over by the locals. It is high time the story of the Kashmiri Pandits is told.

  • This work has strike me as something powerfully expressed.
    Something that as a whole, I have not seen yet.
    I am very aware that the strength of my feelings while seeing this has nothing to do with the conflict in Kashmir (I may be mistaken, but there unfortunately are lots of conflicts on this planet, and none is a pretty sight).
    Andy’s work seems to be about Andy’s feelings or agenda, and doesn’t strive to be informative, and it’s a good thing.
    I liked it.

  • Andy

    This is monirul alam Bangladesh based photojournalist. I see your great work and congratulation on getting into BURN.

    Your images is so strong and to learn the hole situation of Kashmir but I am curious about your presentation could you tell us the hole things ……………monirul

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