ENDGAME IRAQ | Documenting the desert

BAGHDAD

Backed for days in Baghdad with dust storms and red skies to the north. My videographer and I have been making our way slowly around the safe area, getting money shots of Saddam’s greater follies in the vanishing desert twilight. The dust has been good to us, giving us time to chew our way through the idea of being in Iraq. It’s actually pretty safe here if you stay inside the war machine. The only cities where fighting still breaks through to Uncle Sam are perhaps Mosul and Dialla. There, two or three IEDs explode daily, and I hear the war continues. Down here though, the war abates and you can go jogging through the green zone.

Saddam head statues, removed from the roof of the Republican Palace, languish in a car park at FOB Prosperity in central Baghdad. There were originally four heads; one is missing, and the other was melted down to make coins.
Richard Mosse
Saddam head statues, removed from the roof of the Republican Palace, languish in a car park at FOB Prosperity in central Baghdad. There were originally four heads; one is missing, and the other was melted down to make coins.

Arriving at the helipad an hour ago, the alarm rang and “Incoming!” announced repeatedly. Peruvian guards, privately contracted to protect the heliport, jumped to their weapons. The pair of us ran inside the cozy waiting room where a GI laughed at our frantic eyes and told us that it’s safe inside the blast walls. The choppers here really shake your spine. It’s a grand sensation, coddled by modernity.

Gathering artsy video footage on an empty street in the Green Zone, we were confronted by a pair of very stylishly dressed Europeans. Taking them for journalists, and probably Italians, I asked them whom they were with. Vanity Fair, said the lady. She was young and quite a vixen, though I couldn’t see through her enormous blue Guccis. She wore a chic turquoise jacket. “And who are you?” she asked.

I explained that we are artists searching for significant gestures, and gave her a wink and nervous laugh. They seem quite happy with their significant gestures, she said, cutting us off and leading her photographer away with her. I realized that I was dressed almost exactly like her photographer, in a black Kenzo jacket with designer stubble and unkempt hair. Is there something about the war zone that makes us grasp at cliché, resurrecting the old epic archetypes?

Richard Mosse is a 2008 graduate of the Yale School of Art.

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