War is Personal

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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Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

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