War is Personal

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by Eugene Richards

Chobi Mela VII
International Festival of Photography
Bangladesh, 2013
Theme: Fragility

War Is Personal delves into the lives of 15 people forever changed by the war in Iraq. As a photojournalist,  Richards is known for unflinching explorations of his subjects’ lives, no matter how uncomfortable. In each chapter, the impact of the war is shown in photographs and interviews with soldiers, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, revealing their emotional battles more vividly than you might imagine. From interview in Time Magazine

  

 

War is Personal

It was early 2006 and the war in Iraq was entering its fourth year. No weapons of mass destruction had been found. There were reports of sanctioned torture, of tens of thousands of injured and dead in Iraq, of more than 2,000 dead American soldiers, of a rising suicide rate among American military personnel of scandals involving private contractors in Iraq, and of deteriorating conditions inside U.S. military hospitals. All the while media coolly debated what were to be considered legal or illegal killings, what the conflict in Iraq was costing America in image, what the war was costing President Bush in his popularity ratings, what the war was costing America in “treasure.” And what had I, a veteran photojournalist, done? Somewhat hypocritically, I’d grown disapproving of other’s silence. Then one summer day, after returning home with my son from photographing an anti-war demonstration, through in no way a poet, I wrote a kind of poem.

War is personal

It’s my seventeen-year-old son Sam

That I’m thinking of when I say this

War is a reminder of all that we have

And all that we can lose

War is what happens when we fail

Not long after that, I began work on a series of photo and textual essays focusing on the lives of Americans who had been profoundly affected by the war in Iraq. I traveled first to Kansas City, Missouri, to see twenty-six-years-old Tomas Young, who had shot in the spine and paralyzed four days into his tour in Iraq. I next spent time in Roslindale, Massachusetts, with Carlos Arredondo, whose Marine son had been killed in combat, then traveled to Mount Vernon, Ohio, to see Mona Parsons, who, along with other members of her family, tried to prevent her son, Jeremy, from returning to his military unit in Iraq. In the months that followed, I attended a funeral service in suburban Maryland for Army Sergeant Princess Samuels; spent close to a week in a Veterans Administration Hospital in Massachusetts documenting Nelida Bagley’s struggle to keep her grievously brain-injured son alive; interviewed and photographed Mike Harmon, a former combat medic, upon returning home to Brooklyn, New Work, was besieged with nightmares and anxiety attacks; traveled to a small town in Minnesota to speak with Clarissa Russell, whose Marine boyfriend, plagued with guilt about civilian deaths, had taken his life; visited Kimberly Rivera, a Texas soldier, who, not, long after returning home on leave from Iraq, fled to Canada with her husband and young children; spent a few days in Section 60of Arlington National Cemetery, where a great many of the soldiers who have been in Iraq are interred. My hope is that the stories that eventually completed will contribute in some way to the dialogue on the Iraq war and its devastating consequences.

Regular updates on this and other exhibitions at Chobi Mela website.

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