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