Art Maker: Ben Brody, photographer

  • Ben Brody in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Ben Brody

  • Ben Brody in Afghanistan, where’s be been photographing off and on since about 2005. Photo courtesy of Ben Brody

  • Soldiers play video games in Bagram Airfield's new recreation center, a hulking concrete and steel structure with a reinforced roof to protect from Taliban rocket attacks.  Photography by Ben Brody

  • Hung from a blast wall under a tangle of razor wire, the 10th U.S. Mountain Division's Spartan Brigade makes motivational posters without a trace of irony. Photo by Ben Brody

  • Outside a meeting of Afghan police and village elders in Zabul Province, a U.S. soldier checks his phone while standing guard. The green film on the windows prevents the glass from shattering in the event of a nearby explosion. Photo by Ben Brody

  • Soldiers sleep next to their gear by the helipad at Kandahar City's Camp Nathan Smith; they’re waiting for a trip home to to Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo by Ben Brody

  • Before destroying a roadside bomb found by his men in Panjwaii, Afghanistan, 1st Sgt. David Fiske chases sheep away from the blast area. Photo by Ben Brody

Published: 1/18/2018 4:57:56 PM

In 2002, Ben Brody was 22 and working for a furniture mover in Hadley and, as he puts it, “I had no money, and no experience as a photojournalist, though I’d been photographing since high school. So I joined the Army as a combat photographer. In the atmosphere of frantic nationalism fueling the run-up to the Iraq War, I felt like I was witnessing a pivotal moment for my generation … and I had to see and photograph this war firsthand.”

Now 38 and based in Southampton, Brody spent five years in the military photographing the fighting in Iraq, then went to Afghanistan to do more work on his own. Later, he got a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst through the GI Bill. He continues to take photos and to write about Afghanistan, in part for the nonprofit media organization GroundTruth Project, to try and understand the American experience — and his own — in that country.

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Ben Brody: I was a war photographer for 12 years. In 2015, I stopped doing that and started an MFA photography program in Hartford. Being away from the wars and spending a lot of time at home, I realized that after my experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, America no longer looked and felt the same to me.

So I’ve been taking pictures that represent what that experience feels like, of seeing my home through the lens of PTSD and hypervigilance. I think the subject matter of my work is of interest to the general population, and I enjoy seeing people from all kinds of backgrounds engage with it.

H.L.: What do you draw inspiration from? 

B.B.: Certainly my photography draws a lot of inspiration from literary sources. Writers like Cormac McCarthy, Tim O’Brien, and Mikhail Bulgakov inspire me to use mood, gesture, humor, defiance, etc. to evoke the same kind of feelings that they’re writing about. I’ve never been afraid of doing work that I don’t really understand in the moment, though. Ultimately I just try to follow my instincts and make the best photographs I can. 

H.L.: How do you know when your work is finished?

B.B.: I’m still somewhat burned out from the stress and deprivation of working in war zones, but I never feel like a project is totally finished. They evolve. Projects also lead to one another in unexpected ways.

 H.L.: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

B.B.: I’ve had lots of projects go sideways, and I’ve learned from all of those experiences. Lesson one: You can’t make a good picture of someone sitting at their computer. 

H.L.: What’s the most recent exhibition/concert/book reading/other event by another artist or group that you've attended and enjoyed?

B.B.: I recently saw a major retrospective of Walker Evans’ work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that was completely amazing: It included 20 or so photographs of laborers walking home from work on a single afternoon in Detroit, 1946. The pictures … say so much about the era, the labor force, and the individuals themselves.  

 H.L.: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

B.B.: I’m definitely better at repairing old Japanese motorcycles than I am at wedding photography.

— Steve Pfarrer 

To read about and see more of Ben Brody’s work,  visit photobrody.com




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