Room #4 Baghdad by Cy Kuckenbaker

Issue 57

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.

  Authorized Personnel Only 

Authorized Personnel Only 

  Breakfast 

Breakfast 

 C130

C130

  John, DHS/Border Patrol 

John, DHS/Border Patrol 

  Big D and Hard Car 

Big D and Hard Car 

  Over the Wall at Night

Over the Wall at Night

 Night Shift

Night Shift

  Fly Swatter and Flag 

Fly Swatter and Flag 

  3am PT (Physical Training) 

3am PT (Physical Training) 

 Gate

Gate

  Innocent, Interior Security 

Innocent, Interior Security 

 Hard Car

Hard Car

  Rick Through Three Inches of Glass 

Rick Through Three Inches of Glass 

 Room #2

Room #2

  Rick Watching TV in the Storage Room 

Rick Watching TV in the Storage Room 

  Body Armor Container 

Body Armor Container 

  Richard from USAID 

Richard from USAID 

  Lloyd in a Dust Storm 

Lloyd in a Dust Storm 

 Red Dust

Red Dust

 Midday

Midday

 Lee

Lee

 Behind the Chowhall

Behind the Chowhall

 Going Home for the Night

Going Home for the Night

 Guest Bed

Guest Bed