Staying In Focus In Iraq; The Photography Of Staff Sgt. Josh Kinser

Being a photography instructor is very rewarding and has proved to be an inspiration to me. Teaching Digital Photography at UCLA Extension in Los Angeles, I have found the interaction with students benefited me at least as much as them. But what if someone wants to take your class and is halfway around the world? That is where online teaching comes in and I am lucky enough to have students from all corners of the world in my classes.

All Photos © 2008, Josh Kinser, All Rights Reserved

BetterPhoto.com offers a myriad of classes in all fields of photography. They opened my eyes to the number of people from around the world seeking knowledge about how to better their photography. One of my classes is called "Eye to Eye: Capturing the Face," and deals with how to capture striking images of people's faces. I was honored and also excited to find out that one of my students was Staff Sgt. Josh Kinser, who had signed up for my class while fighting in Iraq.

His photography, stories and the personality they project altered the dynamics of the class. Initially, I had no idea he was a soldier until I realized every photo he sent illustrated the war in Iraq. Kinser included images dealing with every aspect of life as a soldier over there. Reading his e-mails brought home how tough our solders' lives are in the war zone.

Kinser is from Radford, Virginia, and is currently serving his second tour of duty in the Army's 82nd division out of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He leads two squads of reconnaissance scouts. He has endured all-night air assaults, never-ending sandstorms, blistering hot days followed by brutally cold nights, firefights, and the aftermath of suicide bombers.

Kinser wrote, "I am a writer first and foremost but just not practicing at the time." He earned a degree in creative writing and initially approached photography with an eye toward selling articles to travel magazines.

His love for photography sprouted in Iraq with the vast amount of unique photo ops that he encounters every single day. His e-mails to our class with his engaging stories, along with so many powerful photos added a great perspective for all of the students, and myself.

With temperatures often in the mid-120s and humidity swinging between 75 percent to 85 percent, he knew that a good deal of his film would probably be ruined. He also shoots digitally, which assures him of images when the heat can be too much for his film cameras. His small arsenal of cameras include a Nikon D2H, Holga, Smena 8m, and a Fed 5 that he was trying to figure out. Regarding the Smena 8m camera, he wrote, "The Smena I found in a desert/marsh wasteland between Baghdad and Iran in a small Al-Qaeada stronghold and training ground called Turki Village. I had been wanting a small little 35mm like that. I found a hidden room while clearing and in it was a half-burnt Al-Qaeada training manual (that they attempted to burn while fleeing but the rain had saved it), ammo, explosives, rockets, medical supplies, Qurans, propaganda, a stack of CDs that were either bad porn or videos of attacks on American soldiers, a paper bag full of Miagra (generic Indian Viagra), and my little Polish camera...the Smena 8mm."

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