at a glance
‘Snapshots of Afghanistan’, photography by Bill Irwin, at The FCC Phnom Penh through July. Opening night reception with the photographer July 1 at 6 p.m.
The FCC Permanent Collection, four decades of Cambodian history in photographs.
On a chilly and windless afternoon in March 2006, Captain Trevor Greene of the Canadian army greeted a group of tribal leaders in Gumbad, a tiny hamlet 70 kilometers north of Kandahar city in southern Afghanistan.
Greene was in Gumbad for a routine “shura,” or village meeting. As he sat down with the village elders, he took off his heavy Kevlar helmet and put down his Canadian-made C7A1 assault rifle.
“God is great,” shouted a young Afghani, who then swung an ax into the back of Greene’s head.
Stunning his comrades, Greene survived the attack. Ever since, Greene, a resident of Vancouver, Canada, has stunned the doctors, too, all of whom at first said he would never make it. Although still confined to a wheelchair, Greene recently gave his first public speech since the accident.
Based in southern Afghanistan from July 2005 until September 2008, Bill Irwin was 50 kilometers up the highway at the time of the attack.
A fellow Canadian, Irwin’s photo exhibit at The FCC Phnom Penh in July is dedicated to Trevor Greene. Titled “Snapshots of Afghanistan,” proceeds from the show will go Greene’s family.
“He’s an incredible guy,” Irwin says of Greene. “As an author, he gave voice to people who had none — the homeless in Japan, prostitutes in Canada — he gave up everything he had to give those people a voice.”
According to those who know Greene, it was the same altruism that drove him to publish books on at-risk communities that also compelled the part-time army reservist with the Seaforth Highlanders regiment to volunteer for active duty in Afghanistan.
“The world needs more people like him,” Irwin says.
The 34 photos in Irwin’s exhibit were all taken in southern Afghanistan, mostly in the provinces of Helmund, Uruzgan and Kandahar, where NATO soldiers have been engaged in a bitter conflict with Taliban insurgents.
With his images, Irwin hopes to help explain what life is like beyond the headlines. Each photo is displayed with a long caption, providing some context to the images.
Irwin’s irreverent sense of humor comes across in several pictures.
In one, Irwin captures the burly figure of a anonymous soldier wearing black sunglasses and a bullet-proof vest. Armed to the teeth, his accessories are all unmarked. The only identifying insignia are a small American flag sewn to a ammunition pouch and two patches next to it that read “Team America” and “Western Infidel.”
Irwin says that in spite of his liberal, West Coast upbringing, he believes the people and the mission in Afghanistan are important enough to die for. He remains frustrated that European and other countries have not contributed more to the cause.
The US, Great Britain and Canada are the only NATO countries that have been committed to a long-term presence in the volatile southern region of Afghanistan.
If other NATO countries want to continue “hiding under the bed,” Irwin says, their military budgets should be given to security contractors who can get the job done.
“This is a war that needs to be fought and won,” he says. “Not forgotten.”
“Snapshots of Afghanistan” runs through July at The FCC Phnom Penh. The exhibit kicks off with an opening reception with the photographer on July 1 from 6-7 p.m.