Room #4 Baghdad by Cy Kuckenbaker
In June of 2007 I went to work in Baghdad as a contractor because I was buried in student debt. I’d just finished my MFA and I felt I wouldn’t ever be able to make new work if all of my energy was committed to servicing loans. My words to myself at the time were, “I don’t want to bleed slowly…” I’d been in the Peace Corps before grad school and had years of experience abroad but the idea of working in Baghdad overwhelmed me. I feared the moral abyss. I hated the war but my debts drove me on.
Our compound was tiny in comparison to the bases that enclosed us. It was a 100x100 meter yard that was enclosed by twelve-foot cement walls. Around us was a perimeter miles in circumference that enclosed the runway at the Baghdad Int. Airport. This complex was eight miles west of the city center, which held the International Zone (Green Zone). Our compound functioned like a private hostel for inbound and outbound State Dept., Homeland Security and DOJ personal. If anyone from those offices landed on a military plane we would be in the terminal to separate them out of the crowds of active duty, contractors and foreign troops who herded through the building. Most movement from the military airport into the city proper was either by helicopter or night convoy - we kept rooms for people to rest in until they could go. New arrivals often asked the same question on the walk from the terminal to the compound, “What’s it like?” One of my answers was “This place is science non-fiction. It all seems impossible but it’s real.”
During my second year I began photographing my co-workers and passers-through. For me, the compound was a strange and ugly place that heightened the beauty and importance of small human moments. I lived in room #4 for 21 months.
Cy Kuckenbaker lives and works in San Diego, CA.
To view more of Cy's work, please visit his website.