Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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Jason Koxvold
Forever War

In 2016 I had the opportunity to spend a week at two separate US Air Force bases, making photographs for a long-term project that is finally coming to a close. Contractually, I can’t reveal the names or locations of these bases: their existence is an open secret. Instead, I have to caption them “an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia.”

Hundreds of thousands of US troops have passed through one of these bases en route to our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and beyond. Today, as the wars are officially over, they are still seeing heavy use in the fight against Daesh; manned and unmanned spy planes are based there, as well as fighter jets, troop transports, and a large section of the refueling fleet that supports air operations across the whole region.

Since receiving an irate email from a US Army officer in Afghanistan who didn’t appreciate the way I chose to photograph things, I have always been open with the military about my point of view: specifically, I do not think these conflicts are winnable, I do not think they make us safer. I’m not anti-military, but I am anti-war. As it happens, a surprising amount of the servicepeople with whom I interacted shared the same opinions.

We spent days walking the bases, meeting pilots, maintainers, and leadership as I tried to find scenes that could yield interesting nuances to the story. My work functions at the edges of the documentary practice: especially in the case of military issues, it will never be possible to visualise the picture in its entirety, so I am able – required, almost – to fill in the blanks with as much integrity as possible in terms of connecting very specific scenes in front of me with my broader philosophy about the corrosive cultural effects of being in a state of permanent war.

As we entered one hangar, my heart stopped. The roof of the structure had extensive bomb damage, a large hole penetrating all the way through. Inside, some portacabins had been installed so that the space could continue to be used. From the ceiling hung hundreds of strands of exposed rebar, and from them, hundreds of pairs of army-issue beige combat boots.

I asked my counterpart what this was. “Ah”, he said: “the mythology is that if you throw your boots up there and they stick, you would never have to come back to this place”.

During the following days, this idea would emerge again and again. Watching a Christian service in the base chapel, the priest asked his congregation how many of them wished they weren’t here. Tired hands went up, and I was surprised at how candid people were, from the most junior enlisted men to the most senior officers. I asked the base commander to describe his predictions for the future. “Oh man,” he responded, “we’re never going home.”

Jason Koxvold is a mixed media artist based in Upstate NY with a focus on the intersection of economics and violence. He holds a BSc in Social Science from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and has worked for the last decade on a series of long-term projects that combine studio projects and installation works with photographs made across the globe, in places like Arctic Russia, South Africa, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Koxvold is also the founder of Gnomic Book, an imprint focused on high quality artist books.