Mixed Signals

In March of 1996 I was in Sarajevo BiH as a member of NATO’s IFOR. Although a paratrooper with a military mission, I was also a photographer. Even though photography was not my official job, by cameras and film went every where with me. The image above is one of three young boys in the hills overlooking Sarajevo about 12 years ago.

Like many artist, my “day job” has never had anything to do with my passion, which is photography. It seems that people identify you with your day job no matter what your art is on the side, or how good or bad it may be. Even I have had a hard time calling myself a photographer or artist…..those closest to me know this all too well.

I bring this up because of a recent article by Kimberly Hefling who is an AP reporter. She saw the My Baghdad show at Irvine Contemporary and wanted to interview me as part of a larger story about how Iraq has changed people’s lives. I agreed and you can see the ARTICLE HERE.

Although I tried harder to focus the fact that because of Iraq I was taking my photography more seriously and trying to change my life path to fully embrace it, the point yet again seems to have been lost. The point being I was a photographer before Iraq, and that I used my day job skills to both support soldiers as well a position myself to make the images that I wanted to make. I always seem to come across as the “government contractor” that just happened to make some pictures….not the photographer who happens to be a IT guy.

The problem is that I am not clearly communicating with people when they ask what I do, or how I happened to be in Iraq, or my history with photography. In the article Kimberly states that one of my goals after Iraq was to go to photography school, which was true, but the reason I wanted to go is unknown to the reader. The fact is I wanted to re-center myself by being surrounded by other creative people for the first time in my life (which is something that I discovered because of being there). Did I learn some things? Sure, but was a photographer prior to that as well? Yes.

I need to learn to talk about my history and motivations for my work much better. This is something that I had identified prior to the AP interview, but it is clear that my approach did not work.

This post may make it sound like I am upset about the article, which is not the case.  The article was not about my art, it was about the impact of Iraq on my life as well as others highlighted in the article.  The process of the interviews and seeing the final product just pointed out to myself that I still have work to be done in regards to how I answer questions about photography in my life.  MUCH thanks goes out to Kimberly Hefling for her interest in my work and my story.  It was a pleasure to talk with her.  I am very honored to have been one of the few people selected to illustrate the impact the war in Iraq has had on individuals.  There is talk of a multimedia version of this article at some point, so if it ever happens I will make sure to post something here.


~ by Phil Nesmith on March 8, 2008.

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