/03 The Colour of Memory

Phil Nesmith

My Baghdad

My Baghdad is a body of work representing my personal memories of war, as well as my interest in the intermingled histories of photography and combat. This collection of silver gelatin positive glass plate images explores questions of history and social memory, particularly as it relates to war and its images.
In 2003, soon after the fall of Baghdad, I began a year long stint in Iraq. The novelty of the experience wore off soon after arrival, and my days in Baghdad seemed to repeat themselves, like a film looped to play continuously, returning to the start the moment after it ends. The repetition created routine, the routine normalizing what would otherwise be extraordinary.
This normative process was one that I was both aware of and oblivious to, and was one that I realized was itself a repetition of what my father had gone through as a soldier in Vietnam. I started to become conscious that the daily existence of the soldiers around me, while surrounded by different, new technologies and capabilities, still maintained a surprising similarity to the life of soldiers on the battlefield in Vietnam or anywhere, going back centuries. The routine of life in a war zone this week would be recognized by soldiers from World War II, from the Spanish American War, or from the American Civil War.
After returning from Iraq I became interested in early photographic processes, and saw within them a way of creating a visceral connection between the contemporary and the historic, utilizing an old process to capture a modern conflict. By mixing photographic processes, such as the cutting edge digital technology used to capture the image and a combination of nineteenth century techniques employed to give them life, viewers are invited to ponder the lives of current and past soldiers, and the personal as well as historic impact of armed conflict on us all.