Visitors who have spent any time on this site have noticed its appreciation and respect for photographers who work in conflict zones, whose work is prominently displayed and attributed.
To be clear, I don’t mistake myself as a photographer. I have the good fortune of working with some of the very best in the business, but the pictures I make with the cameras I carry serve more as helpful documents or visual notebooks for future reference (think, xerox machine with a lens) than as art. I also carry a back-up camera for Tyler Hicks, which has proven valuable on days when his equipment has failed, as both of his Canon SLR’s did in a firefight in 2009 when he ended up jumping into the Korengal River to escape a kill zone. He shot the remainder of that fight, and some of the awful aftermath, with my point-and-shoot. Lately, I’ve been carrying our back-up in a waterproof dive case, which has kept it alive in dunkings in Afghan canals.
For today’s Reporter’s Notebook, I turn over the floor to Ryan Conaty, a photographer living in Providence, R.I., whose recent email to the site needs no further explanation than his own:
…In 2003 I was on an assignment for La Prensa in Waspan Nicaragua. A representative from the World Bank was there to talk to folks about their goat herding. Some soldiers had been sent along to keep an eye on him and when he was done with his presentation they were to give us a ride to our next stop. In preparation for the long ride over dirt roads we packed a cooler of beer but we’d forgotten a bottle opener. As we tried to figure out a solution one of the solders (who’d clearly encountered the problem before) realized our situation, picked up his rifle and called us over. I’ve attached the picture I took of our savior with his AK in action.
The soldier in Ryan’s photograph at the top of this post is using the front sight as a bottle opener, a purpose it seems to serve well. This reminds me of a similar story, in which the Finnish Army recalled from service and replaced the magazines issued for their Kalashnikov knock-offs because Finnish troops were using them to pry the tops from bottles of beer, too. Such service was damaging the magazines, prompting a new design to be worked out in which the magazines could not be applied, to borrow a non-proliferation term, to this dual use.
Thank you, Ryan. Much about THE GUN is grim, dismal, bleak. It is not a hopeful book. Having the chance for a smile is welcome. And yes, as you said in the follow-up email in which you granted me permission to post this photograph, I now owe you a cold one. For the rest of you, I have some video of a Kalashnikov being put to another use as well. I’ll fish it out of the hard drive and post it soon either here or on At War.
*It should go without saying, but then again you never really know. So here goes: For those of you with Kalashnikovs at home, don’t try replicating this behavior, especially in the manner of this helpful but apparently none too bright soldier, who, you will notice from Ryan’s photograph, has not removed his rifle’s magazine.