I was up in frack land again having a look at the night sky. It’s only at night that the full impact of drilling activities can be seen. As the sky darkens, the industrial lights, rigs, and flares appear on the horizon and reconfigure the landscape. The illuminations are like magnets. In the company of residents who know the terrain and are similarly fixated on night crawling, I point my car in the direction of these pockets of light that rise from the darkened hills. When it’s foggy, the sky animates. Quick flickers, the fall off from flaring, turn the sky orange. I chase the flares down dirt roads which reveal scenes of tremendous disruption. A rig and a flare, breathing and billowing, another flare behind the hills. Empty homes lit by the fire, one abandoned after the water turned bad. The flares are loud and uneven, they swoosh and erupt, and then die down to blaze again. No people can be seen. The mystery of this light, of what lies at the end of the dirt road, or over the hill, is what first struck me and continues to pull me back.
Somewhere between victory and defeat is dislocation. The Iraq War, like most wars, creates refugees, which is a simple way of saying that millions of people were forced to flee for their lives. They are scattered around the globe, most living undocumented in Jordan and Syria. Several thousand came to the USA, a strange destination, as this was the country that started the mess in the first place. In 2009, I spent some time in one neighborhood in Dallas. Expectations were high upon arrival, but the reality after a few months was something quite different. They arrived poor, just when the economy had crashed, few had English language skills, many were traumatized by their lives in Iraq. They are given a small allowance for six months, and then it’s sink or swim. The people I met were terrified of ending up homeless or in health care debt. I wrote about it here .
All photos ©Nina Berman 2009 To see more images, visit
In October 2003, I met Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch. He was an Army Ranger, 24 years old at the time. Three weeks into the war he was wounded in an artillery attack near the Haditha Dam. Metal sliced through his head and left him brain damaged and blind. “He sees nothing but darkness,” his mother said. Feldbusch had been the first in his class of 228 rangers. At one time in his life he wanted to be a doctor. Filmmaker Richard Hankin made Home Front about Jeremy and his family.
Two days after meeting Jeremy, I met Sam Ross, 21 years old, who was wounded in Baghdad during a mine clearing operation. Sam lost a leg, half his hearing, and his eyesight. He had shrapnel in his body, and a hole in his right hand. He was living in a trailer in southwestern PA. His mother was out of the picture. His father was incarcerated for murder. Years later, the New York Times, wrote about him. I think about Sam a lot. I’m hoping to see him soon as he just got out of prison.
Alan Jermaine Lewis, 23, lost both his legs when his humvee struck a mine. He was delivering ice to other soldiers at the time. He grew up with an intimate knowledge of violence. His father was killed in a robbery when he was seven. His sister and his best friend, a 6 year old boy, were both killed by stray bullets. I always thought Alan joined the Army to save his life. His dream when he returned was to become a middle school teacher. It didn’t happen for him.
Jose Martinez, 20, was injured in Karbala, three weeks into the war when his vehicle hit a mine and he was trapped in the explosion. He spent a year at Brooke Army Medical Center recovering from his burns. He said the injury was a revelation for him. He had always been a “pretty boy” and relied on his looks. But now he realized it was who you are and what you say that’s important. Some people might recognize Jose. He became a
Ever year since the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003, I have been making photographs, videos, exhibitions and books about the impact of the war as seen in the U.S. For those who want to revisit this history, I invite you to check this blog over the next few days. I will be posting highlights and summaries of these projects.
A Columbia University Law student screams in favor of bombing Iraq, at a demonstration held days before the invasion. At the rally, people held signs urging the nuclear destruction of Baghdad. Times Square, NY, USA, 2003
©Nina Berman, 2003, All Rights Reserved
I’ll be showing work and answering questions at the School of Visual Arts tonight, December 14, at 7pm.
136 West 21 Street room 418 F
New York City
It’s a small space, and very informal. Everyone is welcome.