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Tom Hunter’s war photographyBY: Anne R. Fabbri 07.20.2009
Tom Hunter enlisted in the U. S. Army the day after he graduated from high school in 2003. He didn’t find a home in the Army, but he found his life’s mission: documenting people, places and events that most of us will never experience.
“Damn the Valley”: Photographs by Tom Hunter. Through August 7, 2009 at Cerulean Arts Gallery, 1355 Ridge Ave. (267) 514-8647 or www.ceruleanarts.com.
One perceptive teenage GI,
Tom Hunter might not have found a home in the army, but he certainly found his life’s mission: documenting people, places and events that most of us will never experience.
Hunter enlisted in the U. S. Army the day after he graduated from high school in 2003. After being assigned to the Airborne Infantry section of the Military Occupation Service, he was deployed three times, once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. Each time he took a better camera with him.
He returned home with more than 2,000 photos, 39 of which are on exhibition along with one video at the Cerulean Arts Gallery until August 7. Now that he’s returning to civilian life, Hunter plans to study photography full-time. Some of these photographs radiate such immediacy and, inadvertently, such strange beauty that you wonder what more he could possibly learn in class.
Among the photographs are isolated instances of beauty in nature, such as a tree in bloom amid devastation, a vast mountainous landscape and an Afghan boy’s portrait. There are candid shots of groups of boys enjoying bubble gum or a close-up of a soldier at rest— a youth who looks too young to shave, yet here he is in northeastern Afghanistan, a forbidding area with the most-attacked U.S. military installations. A photograph of piles of ammunition transforms agents of death into an aesthetic design.
Some of the photographs seem to be fleeting glimpses of daily life and its basic routines. They capture the dreary boredom and fragmentation of life on the front. You begin to feel as if “You are there,” and what a relief it is to look out the gallery’s window and view the passing parade on the street. Yet something draws you back to look again at Hunter’s scenes of our soldiers in this remote territory.
Watch the ten-minute video, War All the Time, with the sound on: loud heavy-metal music competing with the noise of gunfire. It ends with one shouted phrase: “That’s it.” And I guess that sums it all up.
Hunter chose to include photographs only of soldiers who are still alive— or were when he last knew of them. He brings us a sense of what it must be like for our men at war: their routines, the Afghans they encounter and their mission.
Leaving the gallery, out in the warmth and sunshine, it occurred to me that only men and women over 40 should be allowed to enlist. Then let’s see how many wars will be fought.
I’m glad Hunter was perceptive enough as a teen-aged enlistee to carry a camera with him to document the reality of his experiences. Now we can get an idea of what’s really happening behind the headlines. It isn’t pretty, but it is fascinating.◆
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