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Untitled, Fieldwork, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider, Untitled, Fieldwork, 2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, Fieldwork, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider, Untitled, Fieldwork, 2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, Fieldwork, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider, Untitled, Fieldwork, 2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, Fieldwork, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider, Untitled, Fieldwork, 2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”),
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider
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From series Medlane Simulation Training Exercise , Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
From series Medlane Simulation Training Exercise ,
2008
© Nicholas Grider, Sea and Space Explorations
Nicholas Grider ,  From series Medlane Simulation Training Exercise, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider,
Nicholas Grider , From series Medlane Simulation Training Exercise,
2008
, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider
Please Please Please, Nicholas GriderNicholas Grider, Please Please Please
Nicholas Grider is an artist and writer who graduated from CalArts in 2008.  He currently lives in Milwaukee (and is returning to LA soon) and has shown his work internationally in group and solo exhibitions and performances. BIOGRAPHY: SOLO EXHIBITIONS Sea and Space, Los Angeles - Dec. 2008-Feb. 2009 A Rush and a Push and the Land is Ours, CalArts MFA Thesis Show - March 2008 It'...[more]


RackRoom
Interview with Nicholas Grider

ArtSlant's Kristin Dickson met up with CalArts MFA candidate, Nicholas Grider, to talk about his current project following an Army Cavalry unit as an embedded photographer within "Fake Afghanistan" in the Mojave Desert. There's an enormous "Mideast" at Fort Irwin (near Barstow, CA) that is the size of Connecticut, which includes civilian first-generation emigrants from the Mideast, fake reporters like Grider, and army units in training. As the concentration for his MFA thesis show, Nicholas developed a series of photographs, writings and works on paper that give light to his experiences and impressions there and that further examines role-play in the military. Grider recently received news that the Army will allow him to travel alongside a unit to the "Real Iraq or Afghanistan" at an unspecified date this year.

To learn more about Nicholas Grider, visit his ArtSlant profile here.


Kristin Dickson: What are some of the "fake" experiences/scenarios that have occurred within your unit (kidnapping, insurgent warfare, combat comradery, etc.), and how have these experiences/scenarios informed your approach to the project?

Nicholas Grider: A lot of what the military does is actually "wait and react," so there were some exciting incidents such as a sniper attack on the base, during which I was kept in a small tent and protected by two armed guards. There was also an incident when a convoy with which I was riding along was stopped by Afghanis (actually actors) who, it turned out, wanted the soldiers to settle a dispute over goats.

A lot of the time is spent just seeing how things work on base and talking with people. I got to eat the food (not as bad as you think), I was taught how to play dominoes, and I sat in on staff meetings and daily lectures touching on everything from how to operate a radio to how to survive in the wilderness if your helicopter is shot down.



KD: How did you first become interested in examining the military?

NG: This has become a very involved part of what began as a larger project exploring masculinity and how it is represented in various parts of US culture (sports, business, the police, etc.) . I'm also interested in issues of class, so when I was working on a project for which I was photographing all the military recruiting centers in LA, some recruiters suggested I call Fort Irwin/the NTC, and everything followed from there.

KD: As a non-military individual immersed amongst actual soldiers (within the military power structure), how do you approach your photography within this project?

NG: It's very difficult to both take the pictures a photojournalist would and take pictures that I, as an artist, would take. But, it's a matter of trying to establish as much trust as you can in a short amount of time and then "lose" your escort for brief periods in order to photograph things that may seem pointless--like how the tents are translucent enough to seem to glow at night.

Some units are also more media-friendly than others, which also factors in. Ultimately, I take some photos for the sake of playing the role of photojournalist and some for my own use.

KD: Do you find that you're more compelled/inspired to focus on the documentary aspect of the environments (the rec hall, the bunks, the equipment, the vehicles, etc.) or do you find yourself wanting to illustrate the comradery or human-to-human experience within a "practice" war zone?

NG: I think that with the cautious way the media are treated, it's easier as a still photographer to lean towards pictures of buildings or other neutral sites. It involves the least amount of risk and permission. One of my best experiences, though, was when I handed over my camera to a private for a few minutes (something I plan on doing again) as a way to share my "power" as a photographer. I think that if I brought a videocamera I could capture more of the "human" side of things, so this is a plan for future trips even though I'm terrible at editing video.

KD: What is a typical day like as an embedded photographer in "fake" Iraq? How do you anticipate your artwork changing once you're embedded in the "real" Afghanistan?

NG: There's a lot of waiting and a lot of scrambling to try to get to ride along on missions, which is the most interesting part. Things have a way of constantly being rescheduled, and a lot of activity depends on the weather. So, mostly when you wake up (because you sleep alongside the other troops on cots in tents of various sizes) you cross your fingers that something will happen that day.

Much of my time is spent at the base trying to get interviews or sitting around and idly chatting with soldiers about everything from the books they're reading to their ideas about the media to art to religion.

KD: Can you talk about your inclusion of cartoon-like drawings and the sort of military "tag lines" or mantras? How do they give a voice to the general military experience or to your personal "reporter-artist" experience within the military?

NG: The cartoons are both a result of looking a lot at the work of Ida Applebroog lately as well as a way to use and engage with a found image in a way other than simply borrowing it. Drawing, writing and mapmaking are all done extensively in the military, so it's also partly an attempt to address both the bureaucracy and popular culture of the military and how it sees itself, whether it's a drawing of a press conference or the ongoing culture of military tattoos.

KD: How has this project influenced you personally? How has it affected your political perspective?

NG: Personally, the project has made me think a lot about the importance of, a photograph, specifically, and art in general as means of bridging gaps between people or groups. It's made me want to push myself further--get out of the studio and into the world.

Politically, my far-left views on the war and the administration are still intact, but spending time with invidiual soldiers from very young privates to career military guys has led me to realize exactly how messy and complicated military conflict can be and that the soldiers themselves have thoughtful, complex thoughts about what they're doing. It's also helped demolish stereotypes I had of a soldier--yes, these guys are disciplined and tough, but they also read Dante, are friendly and are a lot more open to people from different races and backgrounds than you would imagine.

KD: What will your next immersion be? What other organized groups interest you?

NG: I'm going to continue to embed once or twice a month at the NTC for the next several months, because each group of soldiers is new with a different speciality and offer a different group atmosphere. Later this year, of course, I'll be headed with the 6-4 Cavalry out of Fort Hood to either Iraq or Afghanistan. I've also just begun to volunteer and document the experience of playing a soldier at a living history museum north of Los Angeles. I may possibly be visiting a POW interrogation camp in Pennsylvania to document and take part in the "training" as well as a documentary the camp owners want to make about the place before they shut it down. This means that, in a few months, under strict medical supervision, I may have some nice footage of myself being waterboarded.


ArtSlant would like to thank Nicholas Grider for his assistance in making this interview possible.

-Kristin Dickson


[All Images: From the series Untitled, (More from the Field: second sojourn as an “embedded reporter”), 2008, © Nicholas Grider, Courtesy of Nicholas Grider]

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