Dec. 21, 2001 – Most people look at newspaper photographs of Afghanistan — in print or online — to keep up with the events taking place there.
Jayne Winter of St. Thomas looks at them to keep up with her son.
Damon Winter, who grew up on the island from age 6 until he graduated from All Saints Cathedral School in 1993, is a photojournalist with the Dallas Morning News. For the last month he has been on assignment in Afghanistan.
"His photos have been running almost daily on the cover of the newspaper," Jayne Winter, advertising director for A.H. Riise Stores, said Friday. "And for many days they also were featured in slide shows" posted on the newspaper's web site.
A "slide show" is a set of photos that examine a theme; clicking on an arrow in the corner of a frame allows the viewer to see the pictures in succession with explanatory captions. Damon's Afghanistan slide shows have covered such topics as lack of health care in Kabul, the villages and expanses of the Shimali Plains, Taliban prisoners and the Al-Qaeda caves in the Tora Bora region of the Black Mountains.
"I am very proud of him and of his sensitive and poignant portrayals of a part of Afghanistan to which few of us are privy by way of the popular media," his mother said.
"Although the war is effectively over, he will remain in Afghanistan covering the transitional government's inauguration and the peacekeeping forces' arrival and activities on and after Dec. 22," she added.
For a young man who didn't have a clue that he would embark on a career in photojournalism until his mother gave him a camera for Christmas his junior year in college, Damon Winter has come far and fast in the field.
He was majoring in environmental science at Columbia University in New York City. After he got the camera, "he just went with it," his mother recalls, taking photography classes at Columbia even though he didn't change his major.
After graduating in 1997, he took seven months off to travel — first to such staple stops as London and Greece, but then on to Turkey, the Middle East, Nepal and India, where he spent several months.
He joined the staff of the Dallas Morning News two and a half years ago — his first and only full-time job as a photojournalist — after having interned there and earlier at newspapers in Oxnard, Calif., and Indianapolis.
This year, at the age of 26, he was one of the top prize-winners in the annual Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar photography competition, taking first place in the pictorial category for a shot of great egrets, second place in portrait/personality for a female study he titled "Sarah Islam," honorable mention in sports-picture story for his black-and-white scenes from the Angola Prison Rodeo at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, and third place for best portfolio. "Sarah Islam" also was published in the August issue of Communication Arts magazine.
Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, Damon told his mother his newspaper was considering sending him to Pakistan. "That was when the war was just starting, and I was really worried, really scared," she recalled. But then someone else went instead. "By the time his real assignment came up, I had accepted the idea," she said. "It's a great opportunity for him career wise and life-experience wise. I didn't want him to go, but I didn't want him to miss out on it."
Technology being what it is these days, they have been able to stay in touch on a fairly regular basis. "He shoots all of his work with a digital camera and uploads the images using a satellite phone," she said. "He also carries a laptop computer and sends e-mail using a group link. He works 18-hour days, so his messages are short, but they're all I need to know he's OK."
She spoke to him Friday, "and he said it's not going well for many of the journalists in getting access to the inauguration events, because the security is so high."
Following are links to Damon's recent photography in Afghanistan of Al-Qaeda prisoners, Kabul after the fall, and in the caves of Al-Qaeda.
These links are to his Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar photo contest winning works: "Great Egrets", "Sarah Islam" and "Angola Prison Rodeo".
This one is to pictures in a multimedia presentation on a firehouse ladder company in New York's Chinatown section that he photographed for the Dallas Morning News following the attack on the World Trade Center. It's titled "Attack on America: We're a Different Breed".
"I must drive all my friends and co-workers crazy with all my talk about Damon, but I am so proud of him," Jayne Winter said of her son, whose 27th birthday is Christmas Eve. "As afraid as I have often felt at the thought of him being so far away, and in a place that could be very dangerous, I have come to trust that he has been given a mission — to bring images to the world that it won't see in the headline news, a glimpse of what life is like for the 'other' Afghanis.
"He says Afghanistan is beautiful and the people are gracious and hospitable — they insist that he sit and take tea and cookies before he gets down to work."
When he calls, she says, "although he is often tired from the long day's work, he recounts his experiences with sensitivity to the conditions of life around him, and his appreciation for the kindness and generosity of those he has come into contact with along his journey. I'm really thankful for his having this experience, and for the stories and insights he has shared with me along the way."