Why Mister, Why?
Geert Van Kesteren
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Buy *Why Mister, Why?: Iraq 2003-2004* online

Why Mister, Why?: Iraq 2003-2004
Geert Van Kesteren
544 pages
March 2005
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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This extraordinary series of photographs documents scenes of the war in Iraq, 2003-2004, each chapter dealing with an issue: "Iraqis Proclaim Victory as US Leaves Falluja"; "WMD Contradictions: Bremer and Blair at Odds"; "Who Was in Charge at Abu Ghraib"; and "Bush Says Terrorists Will Not Shake America's Will". The text is written in Dutch and Arabic in the copy I have, but explanations are unnecessary, thanks to the quality of the photographs.

There is no apparent bias in this collection, at least none that I can see, since only the chapter titles are in English; I will leave it to those who read the small amount of text that accompanies the pictures to make that judgment. I prefer to make my assessment of the humanity in these photographs: careful, circumspect soldiers, men of all ages with identity tags duct-taped around their heads, all silent, hands bound. Family photos strewn over colorful, if torn, patchwork quilts, the occasional soldier stopping to leaf through the album, perhaps with his own memories of family gatherings.

Whether tinted by night-vision goggles into an eerie bright green that gives a sheen of otherworldliness or the shadowy forms huddled in lamplight, the photographs reach deep inside a country involved in turmoil - attacks and counterattacks, occupiers and insurgents. Shabby rooms hold frightened family members huddled in corners while soldiers search for weapons or explosives, the darkness shading everything more sinister, threatening.

Soldiers stand in sharp contrast: weapons at the ready, their faces stoic, determined to complete an unsavory task without incident. Children watch wide-eyed as their homes are ransacked, burqa-covered women staring at these young men in Army fatigues searching under beds, behind curtains. It is clear that language is a barrier, wives pointing to the handcuffed male relatives, asking questions the soldiers cannot answer.

Captive men stand against a wall, hands tied behind their backs, linked to one another, waiting patiently. Most heartbreaking are the faces of the children, always victims in this world gone awry, the desperation exposed to the camera's avid lens, hungry for the human face of war. Walls of buildings are etched with bullet holes.

Then there are the mass graves, row after row of bodies wrapped in sheets of plastic, tied with rope fragments, tagged with names when possible. Watching the soldiers, a group of children stand nearby, some faces shy, others smiling and curious, all dressed in mismatched, ill-fitting clothes, bright-eyed.

The photographer has done an exceptional job, capturing the harsh realities that seem so far away and are so seldom addressed in the media now that we have grown used to war, to soldiers sent to fight across the world. The images in this book speak volumes, addressing the nature of war and those who endure it, civilians and soldiers, the living and the lost, but especially the faces of the future, the children.

© 2005 by Luan Gaines for curledup.com.

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