Pick of the picture books: Helmand

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The Independent Culture

Born amid the mud and misery of the Western Front trenches, the curious British tradition of the official "war artist" has now yielded almost a century's harvest of sobering, disturbing and often hauntingly beautiful works snatched from places of death and destruction. In recent decades the lens as well as the brush or pencil has enriched this heritage.

Earlier this year, as his force's tour of duty in Helmand, Afghanistan was reaching its end, Brigadier Andrew Mackay of the 52 Brigade asked photographer Robert Wilson to record their lives, and those of the people among whom they lived – and fought. Best known for ad campaigns on behalf of brands such as Nike, Wilson in Helmand (Jonathan Cape, £30) chooses an altogether different style. Often grand and formal, monumental even in the soldiers' mess, refugee camp or town bazaar, Wilson's portraits and landscapes capture (in Mackay's words) "the conflict eco-system" of a counter-insurgency. "The effects are etched onto rock, desert, clothing and faces." He adds that "I could not have asked more of a war artist". Just as images by Nevinson or Nash outlive quarrels over the war they witnessed, so will Wilson's. Right: the base at Musa Kala.