Bringing the war home: Inventive photographs tell the stories of veterans

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Captain Elizabeth A. Condon, New York Army National Guard, veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom, with daughter, Kate, and mother Elizabeth; Troy, NY, June 2008, Fujiflex Super Glossy optical c-print, from In Country: Soldier’s Stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, © Jennifer Karady

If you’re headed to Palm Springs for modernism week, or any other reason, here’s a possible, if unrelated, detour: an exhibition at the Palm Springs Art Museum of photographs by the Brooklyn-based artist, Jennifer Karady.

An hour and a world away from the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, where soldiers are trained for ground combat in the middle east, the museum commissioned a piece from Karady, who has been making these images for years.

Karady told the NY Times the process is is “equal parts journalism and psychotherapy.” Her starting point is an interview with the veteran, which allows her to focus on a persistent image that becomes the theme of the picture. She casts people in the veteran’s life to appear in the image, which juxtaposes images of war with the everyday existence of the service member back home.

Her work is not without controversy. Washington Post culture critic Philip Kennicott told NPR back in 2010, “….when the vector of art is becoming more prominent, I begin to worry about the soldiers. I begin to think: Are they being manipulated?”

Staff Sergeant Kyle Winjum: “I looked up and down at both of my arms and thought, “OK, I don’t see any holes, I don’t see any blood, I feel OK.” I looked at my legs and did the same thing. Then I started getting up and yelled for Jeremy to make sure that he was OK. I heard him and I knew that he was at least coherent. Our third team member, Matt, was on the other side of the hill and he was OK too.”

Iraq veteran Aaron Grehan: “There were probably over a thousand of us just sitting outside not knowing what to do. Then we were told to start walking in the opposite direction of the cloud of smoke. There was this mass exodus of people in hospital gowns holding their own IV bags walking through the desert. We walked almost two miles over open desert before they sent vehicles to pick us up.”

Major Elizabeth A. Condon, New York Army National Guard, veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom, with daughter, Kate, and mother Elizabeth; Troy, NY, June 2008, Fujiflex Super Glossy optical c-print, © Jennifer Karady

Major Elizabeth Condon: “An Iraqi man approached us and asked if somebody could take a look at his wife or daughter or whoever she was. She was just a girl, maybe sixteen years old. We had a doctor with us, but they didn’t want the male doctor to examine her. They looked to me because I was the senior ranking female person. I went into this room, and the girl was lying on a runner-like rug on the dirt floor. She lifted her black burka to show me her stomach. She recently had a caesarian. She was cut from hipbone to hipbone, like somebody just took a knife, cut her open, and took the baby out. The wound was held together by thin, one-inch-wide box tape, the kind with little strings in it. It was obviously infected, so I just kind of cleaned up her wound with rubbing alcohol, antibiotic cream, and sterile dressings. It was healing but it was nasty. She was very thankful. No one responded until the eldest woman did. There must have been eight women and twenty kids all watching me. The eldest woman came over and started kissing my cheek and thanking me. One by one, she introduced me to her whole family, never saying a word.”

Jennifer Karady: In Country, Soldiers’ Stories From Iraq and Afghanistan, through March 29th at the Palm Springs Museum of Art.  Admission is free for active-duty military personnel.