In his war art Gladwell does not simply document what he witnessed in Afghanistan, nor does his work create straightforward narratives. Instead, he stages various scenes to accentuate the diverse elements that shape this war. In the video work POV mirror sequence (Tarin Kowt), Gladwell and two soldiers – first one, then the other – video each other inside the Australian military base in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan. It is an intentionally active portrait of a soldier, who is shown observing, controlling, and adapting to an environment. Turned on themselves, the video cameras also create a visual web, which evokes the vast intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems of contemporary warfare. The Afghanistan landscape is also crucial to POV mirror sequence. Talking about the work Gladwell has noted it:
...has that huge barren landscape scrolling by in the background. I liked trying to represent that space. It is a majestic space, and it was important that the video took place at that site on the base, because you could really get a sense of what was happening in a 360-degree circle around us.
Inspired by his tour of Afghanistan, Gladwell shot this video in Australia. It shows two soldiers, in two different environments, stripping their weapons – a standard procedure in which a rifle, machine-gun, or pistol is dismantled and then reassembled. Discussing this work Gladwell has explained:
The field strip videos are portraits also: they look at objects in play connected to bodies. The soldier has such a confident relationship to the weapon, it’s almost as if he can turn it inside out.
The video is presented in slow-motion, allowing the viewer to focus on each soldier’s specific actions as he completes this task.
In 2011 Gladwell completed his video Portrait of Mark Donaldson VC. The Memorial chose Gladwell to complete this important commission because of his first hand knowledge of the Afghanistan conflict gained through his tour as an official war artist. Trooper (now Corporal) Mark Donaldson was awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia while serving in Afghanistan. Donaldson was with a convoy ambushed in Uruzgan province in September 2008. During the heavy fighting, he continually engaged the enemy, drawing their fire away from the wounded, and ran 80 metres across exposed ground to rescue a wounded interpreter. Reflecting on Donaldson’s achievements Gladwell has said:
I am interested in this idea that he is a part of the Special Air Service Regiment, and they’re trained to kill, and they are very good at what they do, but he is known for saving a life. There is this beautiful contradiction in that.
In this video portrait, Donaldson is shown in full kit gazing out of the back of a Black Hawk helicopter as it roams over a military training base in South Australia. Gladwell has explained, that the video was shot when Donaldson “had just come back from an exercise and he was just about to go out and do another, and so there were real things that he was reflecting on, and that he was physically exhausted by.” By lingering on this image of Donaldson, the artist directs the viewer’s attention to the intense psychological and physical preparation that goes into shaping an elite soldier. Gladwell is particularly interested in the rigorous training that enables Donaldson to operate effectively within his environment, even while under fire.