This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community. Go to www.oaklandeffect.com for updates on his reporting.
For several months during the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, I worked with two American photographers who were documenting the war's toll on civilian lives. Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson braved suicide bombings, ambushes and street fighting to document how ordinary people were coping with the violence -- or in some cases succumbing to it with disastrous consequences -- for several years. The results of their work are now on display in a stunning photography exhibit at San Francisco's de Young Museum.
"Eye Level in Iraq" is on show in the museum's Gallery 12 and will run through June 16. Alford and Anderson's photographs are raw, powerful and ultimately very humane. "I consider these photographs invitations to the viewer to learn more, to explore the relationships between public policy objectives and their real-world execution, and to consider the legacies of human grief, anger, mistrust, and dismay that surely follow violent conflict," Alford said. "I hope that these images will also open a window on the grace of Iraq and perhaps help to give a few of these memories a place to rest."
Having been there with one or both members of the team at various times as they shot these photographs,
On another day, we sat with several members of the Mahdi Army -- an extremely potent and virulently anti-American, anti-government militia -- as they prepared a neighborhood patrol to search for intruders and spies. In Sadr City, we were threatened more than once, and it was only through Alford and Anderson's careful and considered journalistic cultivation of reliable sources and contacts that we were allowed entry to the citadel at all.
Much of the emotion, tension and pathos of those forays into Iraq's underbelly are on display in this exhibit. There is the haunting image of the small boy holding a knife in his hands as three brothers prepare their sister's body for burial. Or the anger and rage visible in the Zafrania man's face as he stares straight at Alford, asking her, and all of us, in effect, what are you doing here?
I spoke to Anderson and Alford last week. Both live in Texas now and teach photography and journalism at universities there. It was still strange, Anderson said, to be back in America and "not around stressed out people all the time." I believe our involvement with Iraq will continue to provide lessons for years to come. Visit this show and see for yourself, from an "eye level," what trauma, violence and chaos look like halfway around the world.
Tickets for the de Young exhibit are $11 for adults; $8 for seniors (65 and above); $7 for students with current ID; and $7 for youths 13—17. Members and children 12 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month.
Tickets can be purchased on-site and on the de Young's website, deyoungmuseum.org. Tickets purchased online include a $1 handling charge.
On another related note, I will be participating in a forum about war on March 10. It's called "Speaking of War Panel Discussion" and is at 2 p.m. at the Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 S. Market St., in San Jose. If you're interested in war and its aftermath, come join us there. I'll be posting more about this in the weeks to come via Twitter.