My father has been in the National Guards since 1965. He went to war for the first time when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Now once again, he has just returned from Iraq where he spent one year “boots-on-ground”. His job was driving for miles back and forth across Iraq to provide supplies and support for the Fourth Infantry. This was his job and he accepted the call to duty. I admire that quality greatly. I learned early in life from him that there are times when you just have to do what you have to do. Accepting the inevitable and unchangeable just makes it easier. However, this was a major life change for my father that greatly impacted many of us who know him.
I gave my father a job when he left and it was twofold in purpose. First, it gave him something to do and to think about other than being in the middle of a war where he wasn’t wanted and where he certainly didn’t want to be. Second, it gave me insight into his life and the lives of Iraqi’s in the way I love and understand best through photography. I sent a camera, film and the objective to not stop taking photographs and he complied as all good soldiers do. To my surprise however, he impressed me with his vision and I now wonder if my inexplicably innate photography skills may have actually come from him.
My father took about 1000 photographs while he was in Iraq and Kuwait but unfortunately, some of this film was lost in the mail. He says he took many of the photos while imagining me sitting by his side on his endless journeys. He hoped he was capturing photos that would tell the story of his life and travels while in Iraq. My dad took this job very seriously and impressed me greatly not only with his ambition to do a good job and satisfy his daughter’s whim and fancy but with the fact that he actually did a good job.
He took many photos that would likely bore an uninterested person and he took many photos that made you look twice, think and reflect. They all helped to tell the story of a soldier at war. One photo in particular hit me immediately and it is a photo I get lost in and can imagine taking myself. I may however, would have actually over thought it and the fact that it was so quick of a decision and reflex on my father’s part to take the photograph is part of its allure.
The photo is of a solitary man walking in a plowed field, head bent down and dressed in a robe and head scarf. There is a bar in the photo and you realize it was taken out of the window of a military truck moving down an Iraqi road but it frames the man perfectly. It was just a split second decision by my father to take the photo but the impact of being the voyeur of a voyeur really hits me. I’m still trying to come to terms with the force I’ve been hit with by this man that I will never know. I know it is odd. He is just a man, whose face I can’t even see, who lives thousands of miles away and lives a life I will never understand. But what is his role in the universe and why did he enter my thoughts so strongly just from a photograph that I didn’t even take?
Here is a man isolated in numerous ways. He is in a country at war and possibly wondering if life will ever get better while those in uniform are likely wondering if they will get back to their better lives. He is in a field that is not producing and does he even have the means to make it flourish? He is walking alone, looks lonely and this is highlighted even more in the photograph by the vehicle window bar framing him perfectly. This image is so simplistic but with imagination, knowledge and heart it becomes a whole lot more than a man walking alone and you have no choice but to wonder how his life has been impacted since men and women like my father started to cross his path. Here, for a moment in time, are two men who live thousands of miles apart with completely different lives who cross paths for but a split second but both just hoping life gets better than what it is now. That is what my imagination, heart and knowledge of the situation tell me.
My father going to war was an unwanted impact in my life. This photograph of a strange man has made an impact I have yet to figure out. For my father, he is a mere sentence in the story of his life at war and my pops just doesn’t see it as I do. But for this strange man, this is the complete story of his life from which he likely won’t escape or even want to leave. This is his country, his homeland, his field, his dirt, his birthplace and the place where he will most likely die. Does he live and will he die alone just as he walks unaccompanied in this photograph? No one, absolutely no one, will ever know because this man doesn’t know that I even exist let alone that I am wondering about his life based on a photograph taken by my father. Am I reading more into it than I should? I think that is what makes this photograph an art piece. I really want to analyze and understand not just view what is before me.
My dad is safe, has a warm bed again and is happy to be home. What of this man in the field? This war is not yet over for him but I hope he is safe and warm as well, even with the unwanted impact on his life that he still suffers.
Here are my photos of my dad’s return…