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A photograph taken by City alumnus featured in an online National Portrait Gallery exhibition

By Matthew Little (Communications Officer), Published (Updated )

A photograph taken by Phillip Walter Wellman (BA Journalism and Social Science, 2006), capturing the release of a former Taliban fighter from prison has been included in the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait exhibition.

The annual exhibition is the leading international competition, which showcases the best contemporary portrait photography from around the world.

Phillip shot the photograph titled, ‘Taliban Prisoner,’ while working as a photographer and reporter for American independent military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

Taliban Prisoner
Taliban Prisoner Phillip Walter Wellman (BA Journalism and Social Science, 2006)

The photograph represented a historic moment where around 5,000 former Taliban prisoners were released by the Afghan government due to negotiations talks with the U.S.

Phillip photographed the face of one prisoner on a bus during this important gamble for peace.

“What I remember most about the day was how amiable some of the prisoners were. I interviewed several of the men and not one came across as a violent extremist. Maybe they were, but when I was speaking to them, they seemed like pretty normal men with understandable grievances,” said Phillip.

“I didn’t speak with the man in my photograph, so I’m not sure what he was like. He stared at me for a while as I photographed him and it was a bit unsettling, because I thought he looked rather threatening.

“Later, when I looked at the photos on my computer, it was difficult to determine what emotions he was showing. At first, I saw that threatening stare again, but the more I looked the more he appeared vulnerable and even sad. I’m still not sure how I would describe his expression and I think that’s the most interesting thing about the photo,” he continued.

A country desperate for peace

Since graduating, Phillip worked as a reporter and news presenter in Dubai, before returning to London to study an MSc in Conflict Studies. Since 2016 he has been based in Afghanistan, covering the war.

While based in Afghanistan, Phillip has witnessed America’s longest war and seen first hand the violence that it can create, such as the aftermath of a rocket explosion which hit a few streets away from him.

Phillip Walter Wellman (BA Journalism and Social Science, 2006)
Phillip Walter Wellman (BA Journalism and Social Science, 2006)

“Violence has been a constant feature of my time in Afghanistan,” said Phillip.

“While this is, obviously, an ongoing concern, as a foreign reporter, you know you have the option of leaving if things get too bad. I think what’s even more difficult than living with the perpetual violence is constantly interacting with people whose lives have been made extremely difficult by the war and can’t escape it.

“Everyone you meet is desperate for change, desperate for peace,” he concluded.


See Phillip’s photograph ‘Taliban Prisoner’ and the full exhibition here.

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