Limbs, Ross McDonnell's photography

Ross McDonnell Limbs

Limbs No. 1, 2012.

Limbs No. 2, 2012.

Limbs No. 3, 2012.

Limbs No. 4, 2012.

Limbs No. 5, 2012.

Limbs No. 6, 2012.

Limbs No. 7, 2012.

Limbs No. 8, 2012.

Limbs No. 9, 2012., ©Ross McDonnell. All Rights Reserved

Limbs No. 10, 2012.

Artist's statement

Limbs, a newly published set of photographs by Ross McDonnell, presents the documentation of a set of improvised prosthetic legs that the artist captured at the Orthopedic Hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The limbs were left behind by patients as they were fitted for modern, custom-made prosthetic legs by staff of the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross). The hospital serves the semi-permanent battle space that has come to define Eastern Afghanistan throughout the country's forty years of near-continuous conflict. For McDonnell, Limbs served to anthropomorphise the particular resilience and optimism of the Afghan people he spent years documenting.

Stripped of their surrounding context, McDonnell seeks to break from depictions of civilian casualties as well as the visual tropes that have come to define the Afghan people. The viewer is presented with the image of a prosthetic limb and invited to imagine the individual who took the time to adapt, construct or improvise their own prostheses. The photographs humanise and personalise a subject that we, perhaps, automatically associate with suffering.

McDonnell presents these prosthetics as sculptural objects. The individuals who created these prosthetics rejected - both by necessity (due to an acute scarcity of materials) and through their own creative impulse - what the medical establishment sets as nominal criteria for a prosthetic leg. Seemingly unconcerned with function, cosmesis & comfort; these individuals favoured radical adaptation, combined with a personal sense of expression in the creation of their bodily extensions. The results are both idiosyncratic and poignant. The star- speckled night sky. A fashionable boot. Even the spent casing of a Rocket Propelled Grenade, it seems, were viable materials for the Afghan amputee. 

Experts state that the success of a prosthetic depends 10% on the object and 90% on the patient’s attitude to it. These images are testament to that attitude.

About the photographer


1979, Ireland



Based in

New York, United States

About Ross McDonnell

Ross McDonnell is a filmmaker and photographer from Dublin, Ireland. His work is manifested in long-term documentary projects focused on themes of sustainability, conflict, migration and ecology.

McDonnell’s first film Colony was a multi-award-winning exploration into the plight of declining Honeybee populations in the United States and its impact on agriculture. His following films focused on the conflict in Mexico and Afghanistan as well as social housing in his native Dublin. His most recent film Elián, produced for CNN Films, BBC and Amazon, was nominated for a News and Documentary EMMY award in 2018.

Ross’ photographic work has been exhibited and published around the world. He is a regular contributor to publications such as Time Magazine, The New York Times Magazine and The Sunday Times Magazine.