Mercenaries became news with the massive
expansion of the Bush administration’s use of “military contractors” to
help wage wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Privatizing duties formerly
handled by the armed services raises interesting questions: Is the
military saving money by outsourcing? Are corporations obligated to
abide by international agreements? Are there any rules of engagement?
How can we keep track of who is fighting and dying?
Problem, officer? “Private security contractors” in Afghanistan routinely assume duties formerly reserved for armies and police forces. Matt Moyer’s photographs of mercenaries from around the world are on display at Onondaga Community College.
Moyer’s investigation of the issue began
in Afghanistan where he followed employees of private security firm
Crucible. Many of his images show the men executing duties like
“busting traffic”—dispersing traffic jams. In the first shot a
camouflaged man shouts and leans the muzzle of his automatic weapon on
the glass of a driver’s side window. Other images show a lighter side:
mugging with an antique helmet at a bazaar; dispensing stuffed monkeys
to a crowd of children. A reclining employee talks to his wife
thousands of miles away after a danger-filled day while an ignored
television set behind him shows a split-screen scene from the 2003
movie Down with Love where Ewan MacGregor and Renee Zellweger are having another phone conversation.
In Kenya, we see a team of armed men in
a dry, grassy field, a herd of giraffes in the distance. They are
hunters, but not for trophies: The government has paid them to rove the
savannah for poachers and shoot them on sight. Hired guns are easy to
come by in the Congo and in the poverty-stricken “Mercenary Village” of
Economic hardship likewise drives
teenage Nepalese to want to join the Gurkhas, a group of fighters paid
by the British government. There is also pride at stake: The group has
a daunting reputation for fierceness and competition is fierce to
become a member of the force. Moyer captures some intense moments of
the doko, a three-mile uphill race with a basket of rocks on your back
which is part of the tryout.
The French Foreign Legion offers more
than money to those who enlist. A new identity, passport and retirement
benefits are held out to those who survive five years of fighting. One
image taken during war games shows an intersection of military and
civilian cultures as a waitress in a colorful apron peeks out of a cozy
café at a contingent of heavily armed men, their faces obscured.
Moyer modestly cites luck as an
important element of his success. Elaboration on process makes it clear
he makes his own luck by thoroughly researching subjects, learning
languages, negotiating his way into dangerous situations and then
spending day and night waiting for decisive moments that will best tell
a story. Moyer estimates that only about 10 percent of his time is
spent snapping the shutter; the rest is preparation. This dedication to
truth leads to images that never stoop to one-dimensional propaganda.
“I want my pictures to show that we are more alike than we are
different from each other,” Moyer said.
Matt Moyer’s work will be exhibited
through Nov. 4 at OCC’s Ann Felton Multicultural Center in Ferrante
Hall, 4585 W. Seneca Turnpike. The gallery is open Mondays to Fridays,
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Two artist receptions will be held Thursday, Oct. 16,
at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., as part of the Th3 citywide art open. Call
498-2787 for more information or go to sunyocc.edu.
—Jon Dufort (email comments to jdufort[at]syracusenewtimes.com)
Widow of a Crucible employee.