Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

Blame it on a simple twist of fate.–Bob Dylan

Without any further delay, here is my “take” on this week’s photo challenge.  First, I invite you to look closely at these 4 photos.  What do you see?

"Woman in White," by Claire Beckett

Photo by Claire Beckett

Or, more importantly, what do you think you see?


Photo by Claire Beckett

An Iraqi terrorist assembling a bomb?   A religious Afghan woman, her hair modestly covered with a scarf?   In fact, we are viewing something quite different.

American-Iraqi copy

Photo by Claire Beckett

This third photo gives you a clue.  Look closely at the background.  You are, in fact, looking at photos taken at American military bases here in the United States, which were simulated to look like Afghanistan and Iraq.  What’s more, all the photos are of American soldiers and civilians dressed to look like Iraqis and Afghans.

Why the twist?  In her series “Simulating Iraq,” visual artist Claire Beckett challenges our perceptions and asks the question:  Who are the “good” guys and who are the “bad?”    What’s more, she asks us to confront our stereotypes–both positive and negative.  She is interested in the psychological shift that soldiers undergo as they begin their training here in the U.S.A. before  deploying overseas, immersed in a foreign culture and a bewildering environment, where the distinction between insurgent and ally is often blurred.  This sense of disorientation is evident as the viewer examines her photos more closely and begins to peel back the layers of what is “real” and what is “imagined.”

Wounded Warrior

Photo by Claire Beckett from the “Character Study” exhibit at the DeCordova Museum, Boston, MA

As I stood before Claire Beckett’s larger-than-life photos, I was simultaneously fascinated and uneasy as I learned that my initial impressions were totally false.  What’s worse,  I was relying on   stereotypes–both positive and negative–of the Iraqis and the American soldiers.  It takes determination and a bit of courage to break apart a stereotype.  To realize that our cowboy hero in the white hat (so to speak) is really a chain smoker, who doesn’t pay his taxes and beats his horse.   Our biases are convenient and they make us lazy, content to see only fragments and not the whole picture.

To find out more about Claire Beckett and her work, here’s a link to her website.  And, for other interpretations of “twist,”  click on the link here.   Enjoy our leap into summer!




10 replies »

  1. This is so mind-boggling; what an intimate, visual and psychological analysis of each character portrayed here, and how these play off of our preconceptions of each.


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