Pictures with Stories #1

I'm going to start a new thing. For years I've been taking photographs, and many of them have fantastic stories behind them. I'm going to present a photograph and tell a little bit of the backstory.

In 2004, my friend and neighbor Rick heard that his National Guard Unit was called up to head back over to Iraq for a second tour. He had just cleared his duty requirements, and he was free of any responsibility to deploy. Even though he had two little girls and a newborn son, he felt a deep need to go, despite the ridiculous logic of the decision. 

He came to me a few weeks before he had to leave and said, "Hey, you take a lot of pictures. I need one of Wyatt, to take with me when I go. I have a good one of the girls, but none of him." 

I told him I could so something. I had a Canon G3 viewfinder, a solid camera, but nothing spectacular. Digital photography was just starting to be something that could really challenge film. I'd recently taken a photography course at the university where I was working, and I'd learned the basics of wet darkroom process.  In the winter of 2002, I ended up teaching that introductory course for the teacher who'd been called upon to shoot video for the Winter Olympics in Park City. All this is to say that I knew a little something, but not much.

We set up to take a regular formal portrait of Rick in uniform with the boy in his lap. The baby was fussy. Almost without thinking, Rick let his finger relax, and the baby took it into his mouth. It wasn't there long, but I snapped this shot. 

I did a little bit of Photoshop work on the image, but not much. Mostly I color-shifted to pop out the red of Rick's freckles, then dropped the dark shadows to black. I'm not the best at even exposure in the camera, but I got lucky with this one. There were no lights or reflectors. This was all natural light.

Halfway through Rick's tour, he called me from Kirkuk to tell me that he was on guard duty earlier that morning (for me it was the middle of the night) and he'd been shot at, that it has been close fire. Rick and the other solider on duty emptied their magazines into the dark and then sat there laughing "like idiots."

"What am I doing here, Todd?" He asked. 

I didn't know what to say at first. When he asked again, I said, "Rick, I don't know, man."

"It's crazy over here," he said. 

"I'm sure it is."

"I gotta go," he said suddenly.

He didn't wait for me to answer before he hung up.