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December 1, 2007

Soldier-Photographer

I came across solider-photographer Jay Romano back in August when a member of Lightstalkers, the networking site for photojournalists, linked to his Flickr page.

On his second tour of duty in Iraq, Romano has admittedly not had a chance to extensively edit and organize.  But isn’t that what war, and Flickr (to a greater or lesser extent) are about?  I also thought — as a break from our typical one-picture-at-a-time approach at The BAG, it would be interesting to look at the occasional Flickr feed.

Jay currently has six image sets on his page.  The series titled OIF3 contains photos from Iraq taken between July 2005 and March 2007 from spots throughout Anbar and Babil Province.  (Here are a couple that stood out for me : 1, 2, 3.)  The series above, titled: "Current OIF… ", runs between May and August 2007.  It starts in Ninewa Province with the rest from Mosul or locations undisclosed. 

A consistent theme through Jay’s images are photos of IED explosions.  In a caption or comment, at one point, he says he doesn’t know why he is so adept at capturing these detonations.  In the Lightstalker thread, however, in discussing the parallels between his two roles, an explanation surfaces.  Ray writes:

When it comes to balancing the soldiering and photographing, the act of looking and seeing has helped both. I can only say this because of the results. In comparison with my peers, I can locate 300% more IEDs. Why? It’s because I am looking for images, not that I have a gift or am working with the insurgency as some of the guys tell me.

I’m interested in your take on the images either individually or collectively, plus I have a couple of questions. 

Because most of the photojournalism we’ve seen from Iraq has come from embedded photographers, how much do Romano’s photos further blur the line between an independent versus a sympathetic view of the war?

What I’m also wondering is, how much are we on the left impeded from empathizing with these soldiers out of "danger" of compromising our larger opposition to the war?  …And then, how much is that conflict a "set up," part of the genius of embedding and allowing soldier-photographers to do their thing?

If you’re interested in seeing captions, run your cursor over the photo and click the "i" button.  To close the caption, just click the "close" box to the right of the caption.  You can also skip back or ahead using the scroll arrows bottom right, and you can click through to the actual flickr page from the links just below the caption.

(images: ©Jonathan Romano.  2007.  Iraq.  via Flickr)

  • http://profile.typekey.com/michaelweaselo/ michaelp

    Those photos are intense.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/michaelweaselo/ michaelp

    Whoops, didnt mean to post that first one on its own…
    As a citizen, I must say that unless I actively seek out photos and the stories they tell, the “news” organizations absolutely do not publish anything remotely like these. These photos tell much more about the real Iraq than any 300 word story on NYT.com ever has. The networks dont even pretend to be interested in the reality on the ground and refuse to show us images like these. They show the human side of the soldiers and Marines, the show the atrocities of war, the dangers that our troops face, the dangers that Iraqis face. It seems that no matter what we do, the problems in Iraqi society arent going to go away. No matter when we finally leave. And I dont think we can ever leave at this point. Even if I wish it were so.
    Too much at stake now.

  • lytom

    To the soldiers of Bush and co.
    Iraq is not yours!
    You don’t own it!
    The pain you have brought is not going to be erased by handing out candies and other such things.
    Iraqi people, whose homes you have destroyed, whose loved ones you have killed, maimed, tortured, or imprisoned cannot ever forgive you. The destruction of the national treasures you have enabled are crimes that cannot be forgiven.
    May you remember!
    The pictures are taken with an estranged, invadors eye, that cannot catch the soul of the Iraqi people.

  • luci

    Great photos, IMO. Leaving the politics aside, I appreciate the captions especially, as a voice into what I don’t know. It’s a lot, that’s all I can say right now.

  • Quiet Jim

    Very moving and well done. It’s a privilege to look at this guys stuff. No pictures of lady soldiers. Now there’s really an untold story.
    4 comments! This lack of words is worth a thousand pictures. Have a nice day(sarcasm)

  • Cactus

    Tragic. Funny, Dark. Lonely. Lonely chair. Lonely man. Lonely death. Dark. Nightmares in the dark. Bright light. Bright explosions.
    It’s interesting the parallels he draws between his mental hospital experience and being in the military at war/occupation. In some images he almost seems to be photographing his nightmares.
    Do these glorify war? I think just the opposite. mostly it shows the tragic side, the dislocation war visits on all participants. Here, you are not who you are. Or who you think you are.
    If there is a ‘genius’ behind allowing soldier/photographers to publish their work, it seems to be subverted by these photos. Many of them are subtly undermining any attempt at sympathy or pseudo-heroism.
    lytom: “The pictures are taken with an estranged, invadors eye, that cannot catch the soul of the Iraqi people.” I didn’t get the impression that he was trying to photograph the soul of Iraq. Rather he seemed, mostly imho, to be dealing with the chaos surrounding him everywhere, but with the eye of someone who knows that eventually he will be able to leave.

  • http://www.sionphoto.com Sion Touhig

    “When it comes to balancing the soldiering and photographing, the act of looking and seeing has helped both. I can only say this because of the results. In comparison with my peers, I can locate 300% more IEDs. Why? It’s because I am looking for images, not that I have a gift or am working with the insurgency as some of the guys tell me.”
    What a revealing quote. Jonathan Romano considers that being on the ball, and seeing things better than the other soldiers because of his photographic eye, is a benefit.
    I’d agree with the premise, after all if you’re preoccupied with seeing, you tend to see more.
    Unfortunately for AP photographer Bilal Hussein, that exact same ‘photographers eye’ and nose for ‘the decisive moment’, got him thrown into a dungeon.
    http://www.freebilal.org
    http://tinyurl.com/2s6oqf

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