My studio practice focuses on conceptually driven large-format photography. I am particularly interested in photographic representation across the themes of difference, cultural mimesis and gender. These ideas are reflected in my current project, Simulating Iraq, which deals with American military training for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although the concepts I explore in this series are specific to the present political and cultural climate, the project springs from a decade-long interest in using photography to engage critically with the world in which I live. A beautiful or carefully considered image is never enough. I seek to create images that are visually compelling but also explore themes that have personal resonance. Often my ideas stem from politics and news stories, not so much for an ideological reason, but because they move me deeply.
The images in Simulating Iraq are made on military bases within the U.S., in fabricated environments that replicate the places where American troops are deployed. These pictures are about how we as Americans interact with and understand our place in the world. To me, the places that I photograph take on a kind of amalgamated identity, not American, not Iraqi, not Afghani, not Somali, but something entirely different. While the planners of these facilities may understand them as replications of specific places—say Fallujah, Iraq or Helmond Provence, Afghanistan—I understand them as spaces of their own. The setting depicted here is that of the “Other,” of the non-White, non-Western, non-Christian, non-Democratic. It is the place of terrorists and bad guys of all stripes, a place in need of order, of discipline, of salvation.
Among the photographs are images of pseudo-Islamic architecture, sweeping desert vistas evoking unknown adventure, and portraits of those pretending to be villagers in an occupied land or terrorists at war against the Americans. There are American soldiers and Marines, combat veterans who now play the roles of the very jihadis that they previously battled in real life. In other pictures, immigrants from Afghanistan, some who have fled to the U.S. as refugees, now role-play as themselves, or rather as surreal versions of their former selves. I am interested in understanding the experience of the people who spend time here. What does it feel like for a young soldier to have their first encounter with profound cultural difference in this environment? What is the experience of a refugee, or of a veteran suffering from PTSD, when reenacting the context of their real life trauma? Although these spaces are meant as imitations of reality, what exists here is significant in its own right.