OBSERVATION POST TWINS, Afghanistan — There are places and times where the politics that drive wars fade and then fade more, becoming abstractions to the people who fight or who are in a fight’s way. And there are moments when politics entirely disappear, and more elemental actions and emotions replace them.These are the seams and the instants that Tyler Hicks has sought, and repeatedly found, in his decade photographing the latest Afghan war.Alternately brutal and compassionate, chaotic and calm, projecting bravado or emanating fear, informed by hate or imbued with love, the moments he has recorded were ephemeral, fragmentary and easily lost. But once captured by a lens and assembled in a large enough quantity, they showed a distant war as it actually has been experienced in the villages, mountains and fields — far from the politicians, generals and warlords who have given this war its broader shape.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times April 2009: A soldier was injured after a boulder came loose in the mountains in the Korangal Valley.Is the record complete? Of course not. No single chronicler, no matter how hard he or she tries, can capture it all, especially in a war in which both sides have fought much of their campaigns secretly and tried to keep their methods out of sight. This is even more true in a land where the linguistic and cultural gaps between the opposing forces are almost incomprehensibly wide.But for ten years Tyler has tried, pushing himself deep into the ever evolving but durably violent contest for Afghanistan. Often spending weeks or months in the field, he has logged uncountable miles on foot and absorbed the risks, backpack on, cameras in hand, trying to record, as much as is possible, one war for what it is.Tyler has long photographed conflict. It is his theme. But he is most associated with the Afghan war, where he has compiled his largest body of work, and where he is an established member of a small group of photographers who have covered the war steadily as interest in it ebbed, rose and ebbed again. Many readers will remember the photographs, if not the photographer behind them.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times February 2011: An Afghan girl in the rain in a village in Ghazni Province.The giddy roadside execution of a helpless man.A woman, veiled in orange, slipping away in a muddy alley as an American platoon arrives at her rural village, carrying guns and bearing gifts. [Above.]The rush to save an elderly Nuristani — broken, bleeding and writhing — who was struck by a Taliban mortar round intended for someone else.The iciness of a Taliban funeral stumbled upon by the American Marines who had killed the soon-to-be buried fighter the day before.A soldier struck by so-called friendly fire, on his back in knee-high spring grass, as an ambush continued around him and others circled him, protected him, and carried him to someplace safe. [Slide 9.]The wild eyes of young men pinned down, bullets cracking past, scanning with sweaty goggles, seeking their foes in the thickets and ridge tops that surround them.An Afghan fighter in his last minutes of life, eyes fading as the bloodstains grow, while other fighters hold him and speak calmly into his ear. [Below.]The perplexity of a family of pine-nut harvesters emerging from a chilly tent after helicopters descended beside their mountain camp at dawn.An American radio operator sprinting for his life, leaping over rocks, bullets smacking stone all around, as he escapes a Taliban kill zone in the Korangal Valley, which one set of officers said was essential for the war effort and the next set of officers abruptly closed.(Next, as the firing shifted to seek that radio operator, he and Tyler would leap into a cold swollen river together, momentarily disappear, surface, disappear, and then find their footing and scramble to the opposite bank, escaping again.)A platoon’s tears.Tyler Hicks November 2001: A Northern Alliance soldier took his last breath. These are a sample. There are others beyond counting.Last week, after he had accompanied a joint American-Afghan helicopter assault and a long sweaty march across a war-weary and hostile valley, I asked him why he still shoots, and why, when we are home, he often sends emails or calls me, asking when we’ll head back out. By now much of it is beyond familiar. There are few surprises anymore. This means it is harder to make fresh photographs, or to tell something new. We have lost friends to this brand of work, and seen others maimed. Whatever fascination once existed was long ago tempered by clarity, and sorrow. Why the continued risks? He answered without pause.“I do it because I am photographer,” he said. “I am a photographer working for a newspaper, and to ignore this American war, or any other war that we are involved in, would be an unfulfilling way for me to work. It’s an important issue to document: America is involved in more wars at one time than it has been in its history, and I feel it is not just a job but an obligation to document it, and not only for each day’s readers of the newspaper but for the people who will reflect on these conflicts 10 years, 20 years or 100 years from now.”He added: “I am willing to accept being uncomfortable, and to assume certain calculated risks, to be part of the document of these wars.”Along the way, inhaling the Afghan war as he has contributed to this still growing document, a public record, the work has changed him.C. J. Chivers/The New York Times Oct. 2, 2011: Tyler Hicks, left, on patrol in Zerok, in Paktika Province.To continue to cover Afghanistan on his terms, he now smokes not at all, and drinks much less. He is 42. Youth no longer carries him, as it did when he began. He exercises often and intensely, so he can keep up with soldiers, Marines and Afghan fighters often less than half his age. If once he was seen as reckless, a younger man propelled by adrenaline and seeking risks, he is not that man today. Risks found him.Traveling by his side, I have watched him survive firefight after firefight, and seen him get peppered with dirt and rocks by a bomb that killed another man. I have gently tried to calm Afghan soldiers or police, nominal allies underwritten by the United States, after they threatened to kill him for perceived infractions, once as minor as photographing a pickup truck at a checkpoint that carried, among other things, a veiled woman. The simmering Afghan lieutenant who led that particular campaign against Tyler’s photography practically stalked him for weeks, at each encounter threatening him anew. Tyler apologized repeatedly, and explained his work over countless cups of tea. The negotiations for his safety stopped only when that assignment ended and a helicopter carried us away. (Later, the lieutenant was shot in an ambush in a deep ravine; the Afghan grinder ever wrecking more lives.)Once, an 82-millimeter mortar round landed beside Tyler, 15 feet away. A Marine with seasoned reflexes shoved him to the ground as it screamed down from the sky. The blast so shook him that he pushed himself up and bolted, groaning and grunting, until he reached me, perhaps 50 feet away, and dove to my feet.A shot deer can sprint 100 yards and hit the dirt dead. Was Tyler still alive? We tore off his shirt and looked for holes, four hands running over his back as he curled up and shouted the nonsense of a frightened, disoriented man. I told him there were no holes, that he had not been hit. He was gasping. He nodded. A few minutes later, while the mortar attack continued, he was composed and dressed again, taking pictures of the semi-conscious Marine who had saved him as medics treated him on a gurney. The only sign of what Tyler had survived was his constantly twitching legs, which bounced whenever he sat, for hours.What happened next? The editors suggested that we leave that place, which was getting shelled every day. I relayed their message, but Tyler needed to decide. His answer was instantaneous. No, he said. We came to work. And here is where the work is. These are our country’s soldiers. This is their war. It needs its record. These guys can’t leave until their time is done. How can we leave when I don’t have the photos? I haven’t done my job. He was moved that the bosses offered an out, and had signaled that he need not push. He was also enraged. He had suffered less than many of the grunts who were his subjects, and much less than the Afghan civilians with whom they intermingled and who had nowhere to go. And he was not yet satisfied with his take. He swore. I recast his feelings in polite language and passed the answer to New York.This was anything but thrill-seeking. As his experience has deepened, he has learned how to assess risks, which he does constantly. He asks himself if he is in the right place, doing the right things, for the right reasons. (He is far less afflicted than he once was by that dispiriting journalistic disease – the urge to keep the pace and company of the herd, which makes too much work look and feel the same. Most of the best pictures, he knows, happen when he and a reporter are alone, in sync, letting their own internal compasses point the way.) Sustained proximity to violence has reshaped him. He is grayer but fitter, calmer but more alert, methodical to the point of fastidiousness, and brilliantly reactive.There are things he has learned the more contact he has survived, like that the best pictures are usually made in an ambush if you are walking near the front of the column, because when the shooting starts you can spin around and photograph the soldiers’ faces as they look into the gunfire and scramble to fight. If you are in the back, in that first instant, you might only photograph their backs. Away from the field, he continuously evaluates every piece of equipment he carries so he can return to the field for extended periods, prepared.And out on a patrol or an operation, when the pace eases, he can sleep almost anywhere and instantly, like a cat, recharging for whatever lies ahead. (On a village sweep in 2007 with the 82nd Airborne Division, he fell asleep on his back in the sun, reclining, mouth open, on a rooftop from where the paratroopers covered others’ movements. Bored Afghan National Army soldiers tried tossing pebbles in his mouth. It was like a game of garbage-can basketball. The first little stones landed wide. Then a pebble struck his face. Tyler woke. He laughed. The Afghans laughed harder. He fell back asleep. Another time, during the opening day of the assault on Marja, when the gunfire was only sporadic and the light was harsh and he was tired, he stretched out on a thin pile of grubby straw and took an hour-long nap. A Marine corporal, who was pacing along the wall and talking younger Marines through their first day in combat, walked up to him and stopped. “This obviously isn’t his first rodeo,” he said, and chuckled. Two hours later, when the Afghan light was softer, Tyler was up and we pushed out with another squad, and were ambushed again. He was near the front, making pictures as the Marines fought through it, himself. His file that day was strong.)Tyler Hicks/The New York Times June 2006: Air support was called in as night fell during an operation in the village of Hazarbuz.Other outlets jokingly reduce him to caricature, the dashing war-hopping bachelor. This is cheap, to put it in language kinder than it deserves. He is a professional. He is good not because he is good-looking, but because he spent years developing his skills, sharpening his senses and learning to live in the field. And he works. And works. And works. I am often afraid for him. Everyone who cares for him is. The other day, when talking candidly about the death of his friend of two decades, Chris Hondros, who was killed in April in Libya when shrapnel struck his forehead just beneath his helmet’s brow, Tyler confessed that he wonders: If he gets hit, will it have been worth it? If that day comes, will he want to turn back time? And he often admits, in other reflective moments, that whatever the tales that surround him he often has to gulp down fear, as he did after that high-explosive mortar round somehow did not kill him and he stood on shaking legs, checked his cameras, and within minutes was shooting again.What happened next? A few days later he made a photograph, of exhausted soldiers under attack in the same place, yet again, that was part of this newspaper’s winning submission for a Pulitzer Prize.That was year seven. Now is year ten. This month starts year eleven. He is in the Afghan mountains, with another mix of troops, Afghan and American, who are pursuing the latest strategy in a war that has endlessly changed.Whatever this new strategy might be, whatever its goals or tactics or timetable, his approach is the same. He works from an enduring perspective, one that is close to the participants and distant from the policies, where war becomes no more and no less than who is near and whatever happens, and the things that a photographer can record would hardly be known, much less seen, if someone with the stamina and the skills did not dare.Tyler Hicks/The New York Times September 2011: Helicopters dropped off soldiers in the Charbaran Valley, near Pakistan’s border.