After the exhibit's kick-off in Alexandria April 3, Sims spent April 4 reacquainting himself with some of the spots he had visited nearly 10 years ago, while also seeing new areas that have sprung up since those first visits.
FORT POLK — Nine years ago Christopher Sims, a lecturer and teacher with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in Durham, N.C., paid a visit to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk to photograph Iraq and Afghani “villages” throughout the JRTC’s training area.
“Before I started working at Duke, I was the photo archivist at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington,” Sims said. “I noticed a lot of people would ask for photos of certain things we didn’t have. It made me realize how much of our history was not documented.”
When Sims left the Holocaust Museum, he returned to school to work on his master’s. While there, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, and stirred within Sims the beginnings of a project.
“I wanted to do something,” he said. “I decided to document things that were important — but less well known — to fill in the gaps and paint a more complete picture of the United States’ response to the events of 9-11.”
Sims made trips to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and reported from Fort Bragg, N.C. While there, he learned about the villages on the post where Soldiers could train to help prep for deployments.
“Then I heard about the Joint Readiness Training Center and all of the training opportunities they had here,” he said. “I spent a week here in November 2005 and another week in June 2006.”
The result of Sims’ trip was an exhibit of his photos entitled “Christopher Sims: Theater of War.”
“When I was here before, it was at the height of the war in Iraq and a lot of the villages had been put together quickly,” he said. “Most of it was pre-fabrication sheds from Home Depot.”
When the Alexandria Museum of Art contacted Sims about bringing his exhibit to Central Louisiana, Sims said he jumped at the chance.
“I’ve wanted to come back to see how things have changed, and how different threats are manifested in the villages today.”
After the exhibit’s kick-off in Alexandria April 3, Sims spent April 4 reacquainting himself with some of the spots he had visited nearly 10 years ago, while also seeing new areas that have sprung up since those first visits.
“This is like going back to your hometown after you’ve been away,” he said. “You see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. Our country has changed politically over the years; I want to see if that’s revealed.”
And, as in those earlier trips, Sims wanted to take pictures to update his exhibit.
“It will be interesting to compare the photos I take today with the ones I took before,” he said.
After spending the day walking the streets of some of the JRTC’s villages, Sims said he was impressed.
“They are like real villages,” he said. “You can tell things are the same, but they’ve grown and changed.”
Sims was most impressed with a town that wasn’t built the first time he visited — Dara Lam.
“Dara Lam seems like a small South American town,” he said. “It only took about five hours to see everything the last time I was here; I could spend that much time in Dara Lam. It’s not just a fake village: It’s a whole country.”
Sims said that when his photos are exhibited throughout the United States and around the world, people are often surprised.
“Most everyone doesn’t realize we have something like JRTC where our Soldiers can go to train,” he said. “It makes sense (that we would have this training available), they just never thought about it. And they are surprised about how involved and realistic everything is.”
As for future plans following his trip, Sims said his project — like the JRTC training sites — continues to evolve.
“I’ve visited the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and have incorporated a couple of photos from there,” he said. “I’ll probably continue to add to the exhibit and maybe do a book of photographs. I think it it’s important to know that even though things change for our military, the training continues.”
“Christopher Sims: Theater of War,” will be at the Alexandria Museum of Art through May 24. The museum, located at 933 Second St., is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors/students/military, $2 for youth ages 4-13, and free for children 4 and under. There is free admission for everyone on the second Saturday of each month.
For more information visit www.themuseum.org or call (318) 443-3458.