Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lest We Forget

Photo: Afghanistan, 2005

From a distance, you can smell the bodies before you even saw them. Truth is, when you're in a war zone, you stop seeing altogether. Other senses kick in before vision.

It was January 2005, on a desolate stretch of road about sixty miles north of Kandahar. They were lying in a row, partially hidden in a field of golden grass. From inside our Humvee, at first, I thought it was a family resting. Their bodies were still, but when the wind howled, their heads would move gently--left to right. They were all dead, of course. Their eyes were shut. Exposed to the sun, their skin had wrinkled, shrunken and stretched over rotting flesh.

No one said a thing. We stood there in silence as vultures and crows flew above us.

I hovered above the bodies. Looked at one through my lens and decided to get closer while everyone else kept their distance. The reporter I was working with started crying. Weird, I thought--at how she took it so personal. I didn't realize that I was the weird one for not doing so. Some how, war taints your soul.

Pulling out my cheap insta-matic camera I'd brought with me for my scrapbook, I took detailed shots of their body, hands, and legs. Click, Click.


To this day I've never really understood why I did that. The pictures remain undeveloped--but every time I see that roll of film, I'm haunted by my actions. I see it clearly in my mind--perfectly etched in vivid colour. I guess, for me, it's my harsh reminder to the realities of war...

"The tragedy of war is that it uses man's best to do man's worst." -Stanley Baldwin

On this Remembrance/Veterans day, lest we forget those who paid the price--those behind the guns who faught for our liberty, and those who are innocent caught in between--for they too, haved died for our freedom.


TheChicGeek said...

Ron, this makes me cry. The quote is so beautiful and so true. What made you do that? I don't know. That had to be such a terrible situation to encounter. I look at those beautiful mountains and it is hard to imagine the terrible things that happen in Afghanistan....really any country at war.
I would imagine, Ron the photo journalist kicked in. Sometimes when confronted with things like that it must almost not feel real. And now you have the undeveloped film and the imprint in your mind that you will never forget. That is so hard, and yet,
it's all a part of what makes you, you.
Experiencing difficult things like this makes us better people, kinder people, more loving and caring people. All those things are you. I love who you are Ron...it is so good to know you. You stretch my world and always make me feel such important things, both through your words and your photos. I just adore you!
Thank you for this tribute. It's really, really nice.

Wishing you more time at home and always love and blessings :)

canadasue said...

"The tragedy of war is that it uses man's best to do man's worst." -Stanley Baldwin

Thank you for your writing... may your pen and camera continue to be mightier than any sword.

The Rambler said...

Beautiful and haunting quote Ron!

Wander to the Wayside said...

I'm stunned by the photo and the story. Maybe you are wired a little differently as a photo journalist, but that doesn't make you weird or heartless.

When I worked in a vet's office, I had to see and hold someone's beloved dead pet every day, and had to bag them for pickup or disposal. I'm a huge animal lover, but if I had cried when I was bagging those pets in a big black trash bag, I would not have been able to do my job (and I would have been a basket case). It was the same with the horrific injuries I would see and have to treat, the maggots in wounds. You wait til later, at the end of the day, to realize what you have had had to do, and then your emotions kick in.

Now, I'm not relating the worth of a pet to that of a human! I'm just saying that you had a JOB to do, the job of capturing a moment in time, albeit a horrific moment. And to do that you had to separate the heart from the head at that moment. But eventually your heart showed respect by saying to put that film away, and it serves as a memorial of sorts, and a reminder to you of the human toll of war.

And you have given us a reminder to pay respect to both our soldiers who deal with this on a daily basis, and 'those who are innocent caught in between'.

Deboshree said...

I guess when you see too much of something, it doesn't have the same effect it did when you saw it the first time.
Was it your first time btw? Because if it was, I'm stunned at how you could simply click the pictures without being as moved as the reporter next to you.
Have you seen so much that it has made you numb towards such devastation?

Lots of love
Take good care of yourself

Jay said...

wow. I can't imagine being in that situation, not sure that I want to. I joke with you sometimes about wanting to have your job, in this case --- I am glad to have mine.

What a great last paragraph with so much truth.

Thanks for sharing this, you're so talented, Ron -- in SO many ways. It was a blessing to have stumbled across this blog.

Wander to the Wayside said...

I'm back, Ron! Actually, I wanted to look at that photo again. I'm always saying, when I see a really good painting, "that's so perfect it looks like a photograph!". But in this case I found myself saying "that's so perfect, it looks like a painting!". Really. It's almost too perfect, isn't it? Layer above layer, with the road leading the eye up into the clouds. Awesome!

Ron said...

Thank you once again for your heartfelt words. I too, adore you!

I don't know, it just seems that whenever I look back at what I've done, where I've been and where I'm continuing to go, I feel a sense of regret--but through this blog, I'm able to redeem myself for the wrong's I've done. It's almost like confessing.

But you're right, I think it does make me a better person...atleast I hope it does. Sometimes, when you've seen too much of something, you forget that your heart even exists....and thats' definately what I felt at that moment. I just saw too much...and I forgot to step back.

Thank you for reading, Kelly. I'm honored to have you here.


Ron said...

Thank you for your kind words.
I hope you're doing well in Cambodia. Blessings to you.


Ron said...

I'm glad you like the quote. I think it reverberates both for myself and for war in general. Hope you're well.


Ron said...

Wander To The Wayside:
Thank you for understanding me, and for understanding what I've done. Sometimes, as I'm writing these posts, I'm afraid that readers won't be able to grasp the complexity of the moments I face...but thankfully, I have readers like you who have a much deeper understanding of our world through your own set of experiences.

War is a disease all on its own...and when you're engulfed in death and suffering, you forget who you are and where you come from. Nothing else matters...so as a photog, you turn to your work to get you by...even if it means being a goul.

I'm glad you like the photo. I have it hanging on my office wall...but few know the story behind it...now you do! To me, its not just a photo...it tells more than a story...it reminds me of a time I once lived...

Hope you're well and blessings to you and your family.


Ron said...

No, that was not my first time in a war zone. In fact, it was my second or third, I can't recall. But prior to that, I also shot in South East Asia where there was a tremendous amount of suffering...so as a photog, I was jaded by my environments. It's nothing I'm proud to admit, but when you've seen so much, you tend to forget about suffering, and in your head, you accept it for what it is--regardless of what changes needed.

After this particular assignment, I had a rough time adjusting to normal life. I did not cover conflict for a long time. I felt I needed to step back and find emotions in the world by searching some other avenues. I'm glad I did, because had I kept going....who knows who I'd become today...

Thank you, Deboshree for reading. Take care.


Ron said...

Thank you for your continued patronage to my blog. I adore you and your loved ones on yours! And you, my friend, are amazingly talented yourself! I think you'd do well in my field...you've already proven so much!

All the best.

Dan Denardo said...

Great post, Ron. Love the photo -- the subtle hues. The story speaks for itself....and it speaks volumes. Also love the quote.

kdottie said...

amazing post, thank you for writing it- glad to be back in the blogging world reading your blog ;)

Zoe said...

Ron, your images and words are amazing. You're right - there is always a story that goes along with any one photo. Thank you for being so raw and honest with your experiences and feelings. I stumbled upon your blog several months ago and now I'm a serious follower. Best wishes and safe travels!

Vera said...

This bumped my heart again, Ron. You write the words from your heart which enables your reader to go into your heart and share the moments of your life which you care to write about. This means that you are a natural communicator, even if at times you feel that you aren't. And in case you don't get back to check as to whether I have responded to your recent visit to my blog: I want to say thankyou for the words 'Keep the faith'. You will never know how much of an impact they had on me and I think you must have been inspired by greater forces to write them. They kept me in the saddle of my life when perhaps I would have dismounted and given up.

Javier said...

Ron, you always move me with your words and your pictures. It's been a real pleasure to have found your blog.


Brenda said...

Life is finite,and there's nothing we can do to change that. People in peaceful times die in the warmth of their beds, knowing that their families and friends are right beside them, or even if they were involved in a catastrophic accident,they probably experienced a total stranger trying desperately to help them, saying courageous words and holding their hands in the last moment. But to die in war or under terror, I cannot imaging their last thoughts on earth, it's sad to think that many people left us under those conditions.

Anonymous said...

The information here is great. I will invite my friends here.


Anonymous said...

Genial post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you seeking your information.