POV: Why did you decide to stay in Iraq?
Stephanie Sinclair: I decided to stay in Iraq because I’d grown very attached to the story of the Iraqi people and the constant conflict and struggle that has surrounded their lives over the past 35 years. I developed many close friendships with Iraqis in the four months I spent in Baghdad before the war and the several months I spent there during and after the war. This made me personally invested in what would happen to the civilians who were caught in the middle of this situation, particularly because it is very difficult for Iraqis to leave the country.
POV: Can you give us a general update of what’s happened in your life/work since filming ended?
Stephanie: I quit my job at the Chicago Tribune in June 2003, joined the photo agency Corbis, moved out of my house in Chicago and went to Baghdad. Since then I have worked for most of the major magazines including “Time,” “The New York Times Magazine,” “Fortune,” “People,” “Marie Claire,” “Stern, ” “Paris Match” and many others. This not only has allowed me the freedom I desired as a photojournalist to pursue stories I was most interested in, but it has allowed my work to be seen on a much larger scale and thus have more impact. It has been a very good decision for me and I am thankful that my friends and family were behind me on it.
POV: Working in a war zone takes a toll on anyone, reporters and photographers included. How has your experience in Iraq changed the way you look at your profession and your life?
Stephanie: It has made me a little tougher, but that is kind of a necessity if you don’t want to have a nervous breakdown. But I still feel deep compassion toward the people in my photographs and never forget that they are real people, not just elements of composition in a still image. It is an honor to be part of their lives and I am grateful for the opportunity they give me.
On the other hand, I do have nightmares sometimes because of all the violence I’ve seen and I have lost a few friends in Iraq over the past year as well. On top of that, the entrance to my hotel was car bombed last week. Fortunately, most of us were inside and only a few people were injured. It was very frightening. A week before that, US troops opened fire on my car with my driver and me inside it after we approached a checkpoint and stopped as they asked us to do. It was reckless behavior on the soldiers’ part and the bullets came 4 inches from my head.
POV: In one scene in the film, you decide against staying to photograph the mourners at an Iraqi funeral. Have you changed your approach to such situations?
Stephanie: No, I am still respectful of my subjects and try not to cause them any more pain or grief than they are already feeling in those situations. Sadly, I have been in many, many more situations like that since the film was shot.
POV: Have recent events in Iraq (events in Fallujah, revelations about Iraqi prisoners being abused) changed the situation for you?
Stephanie: The siege on Fallujah definitely changed the atmosphere in Iraq. After that, it became extremely dangerous for foreigners of any kind to work and it resulted in the series of kidnappings that happened during that month. The prisoner scandal didn’t make it more difficult to work but I think it had a more subtle impact on the way all people view the US military, particularly in developing countries. It is very sad that the military police working in the prison at that time had such little respect for the dignity of the prisoners. In fact, the whole situation in Iraq is very sad. It has been hard to watch all the mistakes that have been made.
POV: Will you stay in Baghdad? Do you think you’ll pursue work in other conflicts around the world?
Stephanie: I will continue to work in Baghdad, but unfortunately the security situation has made it so I cannot live there anymore. I am currently looking for an apartment in Beirut. This way I can go to Baghdad easily, but not have to be there when I am not on assignment. It is simply too dangerous.
I am in Afghanistan as I write this, after about a four-month stint in Iraq. This is my second trip to this country in the last year. I plan to work here for another month before heading to Beirut for a break. I am not sure what I will do after that. I may head to the Congo for a project I’ve been researching or I may go back to Iraq, we will just have to see.
View some of Stephanie’s recent work at the Corbis website.
(* Please note: Some of these images are graphic depictions of patients in a hospital in Iraq and may not be appropriate for children.)