Actors of War

Christopher Sims ’95 goes to the imaginary front to document an unseen side of combat.
June 6, 2012

When we think of war, our mind’s eye sees scenes of destruction and suffering. The war-related images captured by photographer Christopher Sims ’95 contain no battle scenes or wounded civilians, yet they provide intimate access to combat’s countless ancillary activities.

Sims, winner of the 2010 Baum Award for Emerging American Photographers, recently landed a spot on Oxford American’s list of “The New Superstars of Southern Art.” The recognition is for his growing body of work, including a behind-thescenes look at life in Guantanamo Bay, and for the ongoing series “Theater of War: The Pretend Villages of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Village Residence, Fort Polk, Louisiana  [Christopher Sims]

Located in the forests of North Carolina and Louisiana, and in the desert near Death Valley in California, the simulated villages are used to train U.S. soldiers preparing for deployment. Military veterans, spouses of active-duty soldiers, and immigrants from Iraq and Afghanistan play specific roles during the training exercises. Sims has had a bit part himself, playing a war photographer on assignment.

 

“The villages are places of fantastic imagination,” says Sims, who teaches photography at the Center for Documentary Studies. “The actors continue playing their roles as police officers, gardeners, and café owners during the long stretches of day between training exercises. Some villagers plant crops that they harvest months later for food for their lunches and dinners. Others pass their leisure time painting murals on the interior walls to beautify their surroundings, or making arts and crafts to trade with other villagers.”

Sims’ work has been shown at the Griffin Museum of Photography, the Houston Center for Photography, the Light Factory, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. His earlier project on Guantanamo Bay was featured in The Washington Post and on the BBC World Service.