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  • November 1, 2013

Jeremy Lock: Capturing War From the Front Lines

Ar Ramadi, Iraq, 24 July 06: “I was supposed to photograph the Iraqi Police receiving medical training, but before I could take my first photo, a mortar exploded about 30 feet behind me. We all ran for cover. Photographing as I was running, an Iraqi “death blossom” opened up and the shooting was coming from all directions. Once the firing finally came to an end we were able to determine that no U.S. forces were injured. What saved us from possibly more casualties was the mortar having landed in a Hesco barrier. We proceeded to go out and search the houses where the shooting was supposedly coming from. No one was found.”  —Master Sgt. Jeremy “JT” Lock, U.S. Air Force, Combat Action Diary excerpt

September 2, 2006: Sgt. John Christoffersen heads back to base in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) after conducting an early morning raid in the Tameem district of Ramadi, Iraq.
September 2, 2006: Sgt. John Christoffersen heads back to base in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle (BFV) after conducting an early morning raid in the Tameem district of Ramadi, Iraq.

Not many of us know much about being in a war zone, much less working in one. Personally, I’ve been shot at by thugs in Nairobi and photographed in places I probably shouldn’t have been, trying to keep my cool (or at least look like I was), hoping the weeks of repeating camera basics would keep me clicking away in risky conditions when the rest of me wanted to crumble. I’ve lived to tell the tales but have always wondered how combat photographers do what they do.

I guess that’s why I’ve been drawn to veteran Air Force photographer Jeremy Lock’s work.

When I look at Jeremy’s visceral images of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places, I’m right there with him. His photos are riveting and arresting and make me want to know more. So I asked him.

A CH-47 Chinook drops members of a coalition force into the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in support of Operation Torii on May 4, 2002. Operation Torii was a coalition operation consisting of over 400 members from the United States, Canada, and the Afghanistan Military Forces (AMF) to gather intelligence. They also exploited and denied entrance to four underground sites in the Tora Bora region.
A CH-47 Chinook drops members of a coalition force into the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in support of Operation Torii on May 4, 2002. Operation Torii was a coalition operation consisting of over 400 members from the United States, Canada, and the Afghanistan Military Forces (AMF) to gather intelligence. They also exploited and denied entrance to four underground sites in the Tora Bora region.

“Sheer luck” is what got him into photojournalism. He signed up for the Air Force after he was “politely asked … to leave” college. Initially setting his sights on x-ray tech, he was assigned to image processing, as that’s how it goes in the military. Soon enough he had taught himself photography and has never looked back.

Jeremy Lock retired last month after 22 years in the Air Force. During his adrenaline-filled career he was named Military Photojournalist of the Year seven times, awarded the Bronze Star Medal for distinguished service in Iraq, and documented battles, disasters, and everyday life in Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan, Haiti, Mongolia, and many other locations. At every step Lock has been there with camera in hand steadily and skillfully documenting what we might otherwise never see.

CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, April 12, 2003: Members from the 3rd Battalion 5th Special Forces Group drive through the west side of Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 5th is heading to an area of the city on a humanitarian mission, checking the outer perimeter of a local hospital and interacting with the local populace.
CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, April 12, 2003: Members from the 3rd Battalion 5th Special Forces Group drive through the west side of Baghdad in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 5th is heading to an area of the city on a humanitarian mission, checking the outer perimeter of a local hospital and interacting with the local populace.

When I met with Jeremy, I had many things I wanted to ask him. Here are a few of the things we talked about:

SHERRY BRUKBACHER: As a military photojournalist, how do you have time to think about composition, color, and technique when guns and bombs are going off?

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JEREMY LOCK: One great thing about the military is that they train, train, and then train you some more. You are ready by the time you hit the ground, and when things go wrong, your body just reacts the right way.

When I teach photography, I always tell my students to think “out loud” three things every time they put the camera to their eye.

1. Fill the frame

2. Control the background

3. Wait for the moment

If you do this for a while, your mind just takes over. As for calming the nerves, we always talked about what we’d experienced after a bad day. Combat photography is a true adrenaline rush, very dangerous at times. But being able to show what the proud men and women of our great military are doing inspires me to be better and tell their stories. It is an honor and a privilege to document them.

On April 10, 2002, an Apache helicopter crash-landed at a remote site northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The helicopter was assessed, and the decision was made to destroy it. A combination of C-4, Hellfire missiles, surface-to-ground rockets, and 30mm rounds destroyed the helicopter with a thousand-pound explosion. The following day, after providing security for the downed Apache, these members of the Canadian Ground Security Forces wait for extraction as a CH-47 Chinook lands.
On April 10, 2002, an Apache helicopter crash-landed at a remote site northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The helicopter was assessed, and the decision was made to destroy it. A combination of C-4, Hellfire missiles, surface-to-ground rockets, and 30mm rounds destroyed the helicopter with a thousand-pound explosion. The following day, after providing security for the downed Apache, these members of the Canadian Ground Security Forces wait for extraction as a CH-47 Chinook lands.

SHERRY: How did you know when to put your camera down and do something else, like use your own gun (if you carried one)?

JEREMY: I carried a 9mm pistol. If we were ever in grave danger, there would be a long gun for me to pick up and use. The rifle gets in the way of performing my job of documenting our brave men and women at war. I feel, even though I am a combatant, my job isn’t to fight unless the team I am with is in a really bad situation. In that case, there will be weapons I can pick up and use. This happened just once, but thankfully I never had to fire back.

…..

In the military we (photographers) were trained to be assets to the team we were working with. We could provide first aid, act as vehicle commander/driver, fight, or act as a soldier in the stack, going into a house if the need arose. However, I saw myself as a photojournalist first, there to document and tell the stories of our Marines, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. If I felt we (the team) were going to be overrun, or there was danger to one of my teammates and they needed my help, it was time to put the camera down. You just know when it is time.

Gunner Specialist David Johnson and Assistant Gunner Sgt. Justin Javar fire illumination flares over the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 1, 2006, from a Mortar Carrier Stryker (an eight-wheeled, medium-armored weapons combat troop transport vehicle).
Gunner Specialist David Johnson and Assistant Gunner Sgt. Justin Javar fire illumination flares over the city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 1, 2006, from a Mortar Carrier Stryker (an eight-wheeled, medium-armored weapons combat troop transport vehicle).

SHERRY: Were there ever occasions when friends or fellow service members were injured in your presence? As a photojournalist how did you handle that? As a person, how did you handle that?

JEREMY: I have seen a lot of death and destruction, good and bad people. I have been lucky enough to experience many different cultures. So, I like to think of my character as enriched. Not only do I get to live my life, I get to live the lives of those I photograph. The way I handle it is to talk about it and remind myself that what I am doing is very important and the world needs to see it. I like to think it hasn’t changed me, but I know it has.

This Q&A has been edited for length.

Follow Sherry L. Brukbacher on Twitter and Instagram.

There are 22 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Old Chief
    December 25, 2013

    After many years’ retirement I still feel a chill when I see the guys mounting up to move out! Semper Fi troops.

  2. elisabeth
    December 24, 2013

    Merry Christmas for all of you soldiers you are the heroes for theme who need help.

  3. rodelo
    December 24, 2013

    American Soldier is Our Hero since 1940 until now they serving and Help All country..

  4. Duane Webb
    December 23, 2013

    Exceptional photography. Just damn good…

  5. Roland Del Mar
    December 23, 2013

    What a photo, amazing… those photo really tells a story, even if you don’t read the description about it..

  6. Wende
    December 23, 2013

    Such beauty in the face of ugly..a true gift to have that wonderful eye..Thank you for sharing these photos & your story..Thank you doesn’t seem like enough but it’s what comes to mind..hope you and yours..and our troops have the Best Holidays EVER.!!!

  7. Marisol
    December 23, 2013

    Any war has a reason to be, the only thing that wars get is kill young people who dont have any reason to go there.But there are some ones who become millionary because the wars,Respect the young men and women life.

  8. Penny
    December 23, 2013

    God bless all of you and your families!

  9. Chris Lock
    November 16, 2013

    We are The Proud Parents of Jeremy Lock ….. Not only can he capture the momemt but he is able to evoke the emotions through his eyes and camera …. A Great Photojournalist … A Great Father himself …. A Great Son …. A Great Mentor …. A great Person … Who enjoys always giving back ! We are Proud that he calls us Mom and Dad !

  10. Bailey
    November 14, 2013

    This is amzing keep doing a excelent job

  11. rosalinda rodriguez
    November 7, 2013

    I Am A Proud Mother Of A Son, That Is Still Serving Our Country, Active

  12. Patricia McClure
    November 6, 2013

    Thank you for your service sir. There is so much that we cannot understand or imagine with regards to what our military goes thru. Thanks for bring it to light.

  13. Alan Davis
    November 3, 2013

    God Bless Those Who Stand in the gap

  14. fadhili mapunda
    November 2, 2013

    i like it

  15. mapunda fadhili
    November 2, 2013

    i liked it and i want to photojournalist

  16. Jeffrey James Kober
    November 1, 2013

    Being front line himself, how very modest that he commends the very troops at his side.

  17. Annette Sauer
    November 1, 2013

    My one regret in life: not learning of the possibility of a photography career with the Air Force. Kudos Jeremy and thank you for serving!

  18. Stidham
    November 1, 2013

    I still have the written notes I took when I was a student listening to MSgt. Lock speak. I carry them with me every day at work, fill the frame, control the background and wait for the moment. It works and in the short time I have been a photojournalist it has already brought me success!

  19. MATTO
    November 1, 2013

    a message to u.s. army.. get out of the others lands and go back to your country you cowards thieves.

  20. Antoinette Amegbletor
    November 1, 2013

    Wow, that must be a very determined photojouralist. Well done for telling the story as it is.

  21. Manuel J Martinez
    November 1, 2013

    Great to see our mission as military photojournalists being talked about. Has been a pleasure to serve with him and know he has a great new chapter in his life!

  22. Bennie
    November 1, 2013

    The best to ever carry a military issued camera!

    Lock has a very bright future ahead and he did it all while teaching and mentoring everyone around him. His service to the U.S. air Force will be missed, but his legacy and imagery will forever be a part of history.

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