War on Terror: Inside / Out—Photographs by Christopher Sims and Stacy Pearsall
War on Terror: Inside / Out

Jan. 23 - Feb. 27

War on Terror: Inside / Out—Photographs by Christopher Sims and Stacy Pearsall juxtaposes the work of two artists: Sims’ photographs capture simulated Iraqi and Afghani villages in the US where troops train prior to their overseas deployment; while Pearsall, a military photographer, shows troops in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan. Timed to coincide with the beginning of Barack Obama’s first term as President, this exhibition provides a glimpse into two worlds we have had very little access to since the War on Terror began. According to Sloan, “These photographers show us aspects of what life is like for the U.S. soldier from training to battlefield.”


Christopher Sims
War on Terror: Inside / Out

Christopher Sims currently teaches photography and multimedia at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. He has worked as a photo archivist at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and as a freelance web designer. Sims has a B.A. in History from Duke University, a masters in visual communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a M.F.A. in studio art from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

In early 2005, I began making photographs within fictitious Iraqi and Afghan villages on the training grounds of U.S. Army bases, places largely unknown to most Americans. The villages are situated in the deep forests of North Carolina and Louisiana, and in a great expanse of desert near Death Valley in California. Each base consists of clusters of villages spread out over thousands of acres, in a pretend country known by a different name at each base: Talatha, Braggistan, or “Iraq.”

The villages serve as a strange and poignant way-station for people heading off to war and for those who have fled it. U.S. soldiers interact with pretend villagers who are often recent immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have now found work in America playing a version of the lives they left behind. The remainder of the village population is drawn from the local communities near the Army bases, including spouses of active duty soldiers as well as military veterans of America’s wars in Vietnam and Korea, some of whom are amputees and who play the part of wounded villagers in their new identities.

The villages are places of fantastic imagination. The actors continue playing their roles as police officers, gardeners, and café owners during the long stretches of day between training exercises. Some villagers plant crops that they harvest months later for food for their lunches and dinners. Others pass their leisure time painting murals on the interior walls to beautify their surroundings, or making arts and crafts to trade with other villagers.

Sometimes I visit the villages with access provided by the military’s public affairs office; other times I am a role player myself, playing the character of a war photographer for the “International News Network.” Here, backstage in the war on terrorism, I see insurgents planting a bomb in a Red Crescent ambulance; American soldiers negotiating with a reluctant mayor; a suicide bomber detonating herself outside of a mosque; and villagers erupting in an anti-American riot. The designers and inhabitants of these worlds take great pride in the scope and fidelity of their wars-in-miniature. By day’s end, hundreds of soldiers and civilians lay dead—the electronic sensors on their special halters indicating whether friendly fire, an improvised explosive device, or a sniper’s bullet has killed them.

Stacy Pearsall

Stacy Pearsall began working as an Air Force photographer at the age of 17. Now retired from military service after ten years, she works worldwide as a freelance photographer, and is the acting Director of the Charleston Center for Photography. Pearsall studied at Syracuse University where she received the Associated Collegiate Press Award. Since that time, her work has appeared in the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, Pink, Popular Photography, GQ magazine’s “This is Our War,” CNN, and the Oscar-nominated PBS program Operation Home Coming.

Pearsall is one of only two women to have won the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Military Photographer of the Year Competition and the only woman to have won it twice. In addition, she is also an NPPA Women in Photojournalism and Atlanta Photojournalism Contest award winner.

Her images are currently exhibited in Los Angeles and Charleston, and her freelance clients include Southparc Communications, DSM Dyneema, Sports Illustrated, South Carolina State Museum, Medical University of South Carolina, Army Recruiting, and Department of Defense.

Early on in my life, I had trouble expressing my emotions in words. I found that I could use a camera as a vessel of expression. From then on, I harnessed my emotions and strove to make each image an evocation of what I saw and felt. I believe it is that ability, which allows me to be a successful storyteller. For the past twelve years, I have witnessed the depredations of war and immeasurable kindness of humanity. I cannot express in words what I have seen and lived to those who have not been privy to it. I have survived weeklong sieges, twelve-hour gun battles, three improvised explosive devices, and two helicopter crashes. I have experienced my own suffering and loss. However, I know that my images of these acts have and will bring about change. It is the confidence I have in myself, in photojournalism and in humanity, which compels me to continue my work. I have faith that people will make the right decisions when they are presented with the facts. So, I will continue to use my vessel of expression in the hopes that I can do my part in bringing about change for the future.

Community Partners 2017