Somebody asked the other day: “You’re old enough to have been to Vietnam. Why didn’t you go to Vietnam back then?” “I didn’t wanna die.” So now I photograph war — a coward hiding on the battlefield.
I needed to go to Iraq. I pushed for it. Nobody would send me — and no one was letting me embed. The invasion happened without me, and I thought I was gonna miss it. Sure enough, the war was officially over as per George W. Bush. Soon, it became clear to me, I had time. This war was far from over, and worse, we had far from won.
The technology failed to get us a quick and clear victory and now we had to get down and dirty. I was gonna do it, like they did it back then, during that other down and dirty war.
I wanted to cover Iraq the way my heroes covered Vietnam and Beirut. We’d gone to Fallujah to meet with insurgents, to photograph a weapons cache. Instead they took me to a couple of charred bodies. “Spies.” Blackwater contractors.
Some say war photographers are like soldiers. I don’t see that. Why do boys become soldiers? Because their fathers were soldiers. There is no gunslinger in the soldier motive. Well, Patton used to have a pearl handgun. The soldier is about being honorable. The personal motivation for being a soldier is to serve one’s country. Or to follow in your father’s footsteps. That was David Douglas Duncan — he was a soldier, not just because he was a US Marine, he was just built like that. He was no outsider. He was a part of a group, soldiers.
//they’re on the chessboard. beinG a soldier is all about discipline and taKinG orders to complete the mission//
Lee Marvin in The Big Red One is a real soldier — he has orders and he gives orders: if you don’t go up that hill I’m going to put a bullet in your head.
If you work for the wire services, you take orders, you execute and make your deadline. Every day. That is a soldier mentality — very precise, very concise. But the guys I know are no soldiers. Jan is no soldier, with his tattoos. Chin with his Chinese philosophy, no way. Some don’t even want to be embedded. Yuri is driving around in Iraq by himself. Photographers see themselves as soldiers of fortune perhaps, lost samurais. Chris is definitely a samurai. There is a bit of role playing going on. Gunslingers, on the outside, outcasts, loners. Quick on the draw. load, aim and shoot.
// we love pathos // Pathos is the human condition.
I give you the fact that both the soldier and the war photographer are somehow escaping the average life. For both it’s about adventure and risk. But to be a soldier you have to be young, to be a photographer you don’t have to be young. Though I’m bombarded by young photographers who ask me how to become a conflict photographer. I tell them: “Get a life.” If they persist, I tell them about the consequences. I tell them there is no glory. They glamorize the idea of becoming a conflict photographer. But they have no idea what it means.
From “Black Passport”