Back to it

Here's a short post with a few quick shots of some of the post-Kabul painting.
I'm pretty stoked to return to figuration and while I should probably wait until the project is further along, here is a little peek.

The top image, The Bulgarians, is still a way off completion (and this is a cropped version) but not as far from completion as one might  surmise.

The 2 portraits are complete. They are the first of a dozen small portraits.

 The Bulgarians

 Capt. Foley

Capt. Peabody


The Yonge/University line vs. Jalalabad Rd.

Thankfully I seldom take the TTC, but on the day I got back I had to hump my 3 backpacks (well, 1 rucksack and 2 backpacks) up to York U to teach a class. Not really enough time to go home, so after having a great breakfast at Aunties and Uncles I took the Streetcar, then the subway, then the bus to York.

Of my time in Kabul, the most potentially exciting events were the roadmoves. Small packets of armoured SUVs darting their way from one camp to another. Each roadmove began with a FragO (fragmentary Order) which would include threat assessments and actions to be taken if we came under fire. The most important thing to do was keep your eyes open. "look out, not in". This is an obvious way to help keep each other alive – by being aware of what is going on around you.

As we drove along, scanning the outside world for one Toyota Corolla that might be acting differently than all the other Corollas we'd also engage in small talk (or sometimes sit in silence), but it always felt like a collective endeavour.

On the TTC however, people look in while concurrently looking nowhere. During rush hour, it's headphones, daily newspapers, blank stares and napping. Essentially, riding Toronto Transit was the direct opposite of navigating Kabul. On a subway car full of people you might as well be alone. In an armoured SUV driving through downtown Afghanistan, the three people around you become, temporarily, your world and your lifeline.

* * *

I've noticed that when people ask me how the trip was, I am reluctant to talk about it. Maybe I'm just being greedy, wanting the experience for myself, at least until I get to produce a body of artwork from it. This reluctance is something that puzzles me and I'm trying to figure out.


Home (or what passes for it)

Outbound legs on the C17: 
7+5+4=16hrs flying time

Inbound legs on the C17: 4+5+3+2+8=22hrs flying time
38hrs flying time total!

It was a haul to get home, that's for sure, but it was a pretty excellent trip back none the less. Highlights include a day in the southwestern Germany town of Trier. Trier with its Roman ruins, bible writing robot, German beer and Struedel; The Kuwaiti desert was sand-blown and overcast but I always enjoy a good, bleak vista; The aircrew were really great as well, letting me sit in the cockpit for one of the legs and chatting about one of mine and the captain's favourite books, "Wind, Sand and Stars."

More importantly though, they took me in a big way, offering me their company for dinner and drink in Germany as well as generally looking out for my welfare when I was just sort of dumped on them without (once again) the proper procedure or documentation.
So a big thanks to CanForce 4082 for getting me home and making the cavernous cargo hold (of which I was the only passenger) feel like a home of sorts.

A small and heartfelt thanks to the service member working the AMU check-in desk at Trenton for offering me a cot to sleep on. Otherwise it would have been an 80$ room for 4 hours of sleep, or the lesser option of crashing outside the Via booth in Trenton Crossing.

Thanks once more to everyone along the way: Canadian, Afghan, Coalition and otherwise who put me up, put up with me and gave me some pretty open access in theatre. The (hopefully) strong project to come from this should make tangible and entry point for those who raise a furrowed brow of mystery at the notion of soldiering.

Production starts...
next week


Before my final wakey, nocturnes

Flying home tomorrow, the long way though: a three day flight to: I know not where.
Before that though there are a few shots around Phoenix that I want to take. Those include some nocturnes, if for no other reason than I love painting them. And I don't need another reason.

Interestingly, a US Army soldier stopped and asked me if I was allowed to take photos. The crank in me was a bit put out to be interrupted an challenged, but that sentiment is trumped by the fact that the guy didn't just assume, he made sure I was allowed to. OPSEC taken seriously is reassuring.


Meeting a Rock Star Moment

A Number of years ago I read about and developed a mythological attraction to Ahmed Shah Massoud. In the simplest of terms, Massoud was the leader of the Northern Alliance, fighting both Communists and fundamentalists – during the years of Soviet occupation and through the ascendancy of the Taleban.
On Sept 09, 2001 he was assassinated by Al-Qaeda suicide bombers and is now considered a national hero to Afghanistan.

With the Pakistan chopper trip cancelled we drove out to the Afghan Border Police headquarters today and met Major General Khalil, one of the leaders of the ABP.

Asked to give a small presentation of my work to the general I noticed a portrait on the general's bookshelf and, asking if it was of Massoud, found out that the General was his personal pilot for 15 years. Some years back a did a small drawing of Massoud and, still having it on my laptop, showed it today.

After being interviewed on CBC Radio a few years back, I met Chris Hedges in the hall of the CBC building, he having also been interviewed that day. Today's meeting had a similar feel of being in proximity to someone/something that really resonated with me. In the case of Hedges it was his real and hard-earned insight on the draw to violence. In the case of the general it went right to the core of the noble warrior myth, of which I am suspicious but also recognize, on occasion, to have the authenticity of lived experience.

Below are photos taken going to and from the ABP HQ, with a portrait of the rightly proud looking General in front of a map of Afghanistan.

The deployment is almost over but today has given me a real tickle inside.


You Take the good, you take the bad

After three weeks of dry weather the snow is falling in Kabul. In another situation that would be great. However the snow has twice forced a cancellation of my Blackhawk chopper trip to the Pakistan Border. That is a bit of a bummer to say the least, but as I just wrote in an email, 

"While it's disappointing, the option of crashing in the Hindu Kush and having to fend off Taleban and eventually survive on the flesh of my fellow travelers isn't all that appealing.
Well, it is in some ways, but those are the ways of fantasy, not the reality of bone and gristle.

I'm being taken on a tour of downtown Kabul in a couple of hours. That should be enjoyable, and you never know, there could be a bombing or a fire fight."

I'm leaving Camp Eggers today (home of ISAF headquarters and many shops) but before I depart, here are some shots of cats! As mentioned there aren't many feral cats here, but the ones that are around look tough.

Also below, a shot of the road move here, taken from a very bumpy road right around the time that locals were shining flashlights at our license plates. Not the best feeling, being caught in a tight, slow road at night, knowing people are tracking your movements.

Also, it's me right before the move.



From today's desk

 Less than a week in theatre left now and I'm leaving Dubbs soon, to go... I know not where. As always, rolling with the given scenario (letting the ground dictate) is the best way to not get frustrated.
Here a few images and commentary from today:

 Firstly, Clouds! After 18 days in theatre I've seen the first cloudy day. And there's good old dirigible, keep watching.

 There are plenty of feral dogs around, but there's usually own one Camp Cat, and here's Dubbs'. He's pretty skittish but this morning was really eagre for some attention. Sadly, touching the "pets" is a dangerous proposition, so all she and I did was chat. Chat avec Chat.

 In the debate over whether bullet-proof glass stops bullets, the answer is yes. This was the SUV that drove us out to the old Soviet Garrison (see below).

 The Old Soviet Garrison was a gold-mine of artistic decay and the layering of decades.
Standard practice was to use Soviet newspapers for wallpaper. But both before and after, patterned wallpaper was applied.


UXO New Year

New Years, well, mine was a non-event, but the year started off well with a bonanza of portrait source material by way of an ANA staff meeting.

After lunch I got a call that more Soviet UXO had been found at The Queen's Palace. It wasn't too grand an outing (The Turks do the EOD)  but, as with all things here, it's about the resulting images. And beginning your year by examining unexploded cluster munitions isn't all that bad.

From last night, here's a tree on the camp perimeter, followed by the first sunrise of 2012 over Kabul and finally some sweet UXO shots.

Happy New Year!