Exhibition spotlights Female Engagement Officers in Afghanistan
24 Oct 12
A series of images of Army Female Engagement Officers (FEOs) and their work in Afghanistan is being displayed in London's Oxo Tower.
Former RAF Sergeant Alison Baskerville's exhibition 'The White Picture' highlights how women, both British and Afghan, respond to the often austere conditions in which they find themselves.
The images also show how the women maintain their morale and individuality in the face of demanding circumstances.
The exhibition, which is being run by the Royal British Legion for the duration of this year's Poppy Appeal, focuses mainly on the life of the British Army's FEOs, who work to build relationships with Afghan women in some of the most dangerous parts of Helmand.
As interaction between Afghan women and male soldiers is strictly forbidden in these small communities, the FEOs are drawn from volunteers from across the Army who receive specialist cultural and language training to enable them to carry out their role.
The exhibition's title reflects the term used to describe the way that the FEOs gather information for the wider intelligence picture, which sits outside the usual military objectives but is vital in the battle for hearts and minds.
Alison Baskerville said:
"With my pictures, I wanted to show an alternative view of what life is like for women on operations in Afghanistan. I didn't want to show them as exceptional or different from the men they are working alongside, but to give an understanding of the difficulties they face in doing their job and how they respond to their surroundings and environment."
Ms Baskerville served with the Royal Air Force for 12 years, during which time she saw active service in Northern Ireland and Iraq.
Whilst in Iraq, Ms Baskerville was inspired to capture her surroundings on an old Nikon camera. This gave her the motivation to leave the RAF and train as a photojournalist.
In 2011, the Territorial Army called on Ms Baskerville's professional military and photographic skills. She was deployed to Afghanistan as an Army Reserve photographer where she served with a Combat Camera Team for six months.
Her work from this tour won awards for Best Operational Image and Best Portrait in the professional category of the 2011 British Army Photographic Competition.
Her experience and skills made her the immediate choice when the Royal British Legion looked for a volunteer to travel to Afghanistan to document women's lives on the front line.
Director General of the Royal British Legion, Chris Simpkins, said:
"One of the aims of the Royal British Legion is to highlight the good works of the British Armed Forces. With this project we wanted to focus on the strength of character of those serving on operations, particularly amongst the female soldiers in this difficult but vital role, whose contribution is only infrequently shown by mainstream media.
"Women make up close to 10 per cent of the Armed Forces and are increasingly in roles which place them in the line of fire alongside their male colleagues. The Legion stands ready to support them both during the time when they are serving and throughout the rest of their lives."
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